Monday, December 7, 2015

And the Bride Wore Gap Maternity

As my sister sat poised with a hammer aimed at my wedding dress, you'd think I would've had a moment's pause.

You'd think for one second it might occur to me that this might not be a good idea. You would think that since the one and only experience I'd had with my sister and a hammer had resulted in a hole in the wall next to my head, I might have been more cautious. But no. I am not that bride.

You see, I'd put off buying the dress for weeks if not months. I knew I was either getting married over Thanksgiving break or Christmas break, and that's a lot of time to a pregnant woman. I couldn't buy the dress until the wedding date was near. I now realize that at Thanksgiving I could have worn a normal dress, but as Christmas arrived it became clear that the only place I could shop for a wedding dress would be a maternity shop.

While I've had great success ordering online from Gap Maternity, I'd put off buying the wedding dress to such a late date there was no time for shipping. Fortunately I'd found a Gap Maternity store about 30 to 45 minutes from my house, in the lovely town of BFE. Once I'd found the store in the "outdoor mall" (who the hell makes outdoor malls in Michigan?) I was in maternity heaven. I didn't care that the Gap Maternity "store" was actually the back room of a Baby Gap and there were no sales people there to help. I quickly took over the entire room and tried on every pair of jeans, every sweaters, dress and shirt that I could find and left with an armload of clothing that I hoped would last me four more months.

I picked out two dresses, unsure of which to wear. One was a bit more "evening," the other a bit more "day." I was disappointed they didn't have a red dress in my size, but settled on either wearing gray or black to my wedding. When you're six months pregnant, there really isn't a need for white.

Fast forward a few days and it's about an hour before we have to leave for the courthouse. I'd selected the gray dress because it seemed more appropriate for an afternoon wedding in a courthouse. I also look good in gray. I think it's my color.

I trotted down the stairs to show my sister and niece my cute gray Gap Maternity dress. They both ooohed and ahhed over it and told me how adorable it was. Then my niece gasped.

"What?" I said.

"Oh no!" She pointed at the back of my dress, where there was a giant white plastic security device attached to it.

"Dammit!" I said. "I'm getting a pair of scissors."

My sister was right behind me, muttering, "We can get this off." My niece who just quit her retail job in August so she could attend her freshman year of college tried to tell us that the security tabs were difficult if not impossible to remove. She said something about stopping at Target real quick and talking a sales associate into removing the tag for us.

"We haven't got time for that," I said and waved her off.

My sister and I stomped downstairs to the basement where I kept my tools. All three of them.

"Do you have any needle-nosed pliers?" My niece asked, feebly trying to talk reason to two crazy women on a mission.

"Just give me a hammer," my sister said. "I'll get it off."

"It's coming off," I told the niece. "One way or another."

My sister and I quickly entered The Zone. The zone for crazy. I made one futile attempt to "cut" through the metal pin of the security device with a pair of scissors to no avail.

"Just give me the hammer," my sister hissed. "I'll get it off."

So I handed her a hammer. It didn't occur to either one of us that it might be easier if I removed the dress before my sister took a hammer to it. No, we thought it best that I, a six-months pregnant lady, kneel on the cement floor of my basement with my dress stretched out over the floor so my sister could pound at it.

"I don't think you should hold the tab," my sister wisely noted as she held the hammer over my hand.

We both watched as she whacked at the plastic tab and it started to break. Elation! She tried to pry it off but it would not budge.

"Hit it harder!" I said.

She lifted the hammer over her shoulder and really waled at it. No luck.

"Try hitting the side!"

"What side? There is no side."

"On the side, on the side, like this," I snatched the hammer from her. But I couldn't kneel, hold the dress out and hammer all at once.

"Here, let me do it," she said. We both watched with the fiery glow of security-tag-removing zealots as she hammered the shit out of that dress on the cement floor. When she stopped, we sat there panting and surveyed the damage to the security tab—which was nil—and then the damage to the dress, which was considerable.

"You hammered a hole in my wedding dress," I finally said.

"OH MY GOD I'm so sorry!" My sister clamped her hand over her mouth and stared at me wide-eyed.

So we stared at each other in horror. I briefly wondered what Dr. Freud would think of this and admired the moment. If I were a poet, I could write a poem about it and call it "Sibling Rivalry." After a long pause, we both started to laugh. Maniacally.

"It's okay," I said. "I'll wear the black dress."

I stomped upstairs and put on the black wrap-around dress with the ruffled collar. I was pleased my tights still worked with the wardrobe change. I wore the black shoes with the off-white flower on the strap. I found a necklace to wear with it.

"Oh, this dress is much better!" my sister and niece both agreed, a little too eagerly.

On our way to the courthouse, we finally spoke of it again.

"I can't believe I let you take a hammer to my wedding dress," I said.

The niece, my sister and I all erupted into laughter.

"What were we thinking?" my sister gasped.

"I tried to talk some sense into you people!" my niece protested from the back seat. My sister and I cackled even harder.

"I could write a wedding advice book now," I said. "I already have the first three tips: 1) Never give your sister a hammer on your wedding day 2) If you do give your sister a hammer on your wedding day, don't let her anywhere near your wedding dress and 3) always buy two wedding dresses."

My sister laughed like a mad woman again and then covered her mouth with a look of horror in her eyes.

I should put "a look of horror" in quotes. To be honest, I think it was more of a "sparkle."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Heart at Sea

Years ago, I went to the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and saw a collection that had been donated to the school by an old couple who lived in a tiny house in a blue collar community. They had hundreds of great works by modern artists in their home—lining the halls of their 3-bedroom ranch. In boxes. And crates. In the basement, the attic and stuffed into the spare bedrooms. I forget how many millions this collection was worth, but after a lifetime of collecting, this old couple gave the whole thing away.

When I stepped through the entrance, "The Heart at Sea" was the first painting I saw. It was a bit abstract, modern and not my "thing" per se. But I stood in front of it for a long time and became transfixed. The black sea was a tangled mess of angry strokes, turbulent and textured, with the red dash of a heart lost in the mix.

I felt the painting viscerally.

This may well have been the first time I'd had such a reaction to a piece of art, aside from the first time I saw "Le Victoire de la Samothrace" in the Louvre. Seeing that famous sculpture in person took my breath away and I felt as though the wind swept around both me and the robes of the marble figure. I felt the the lift of the wings. Maybe that was my surprise—that rock could have so much life.

And here was a painting, abstract, modern, heavy-handed and black and it almost brought me to tears. At the time, I'd just left my husband of ten years, I was skeletal in my despair and my sense of loss. I stood there a wisp of my former self, not knowing where to go, not knowing who to turn to, completely and utterly alone for the first time in my life. And believe me, I understood that heart at sea.

I'd suffered from panic attacks for the first time since I was a teenager, when I lived with an alcoholic, fretting that she'd drink herself to death and I'd find her cold body with the break of day. Those same palpitations that felt everything like what I suspected a heart attack would feel like, snuck up on me in the night. I crouched on my living room floor at 3 a.m., unable to sleep, preoccupying my hands with cutting up words in magazines and making poetry out of them.

My heart would catch in my throat and flutter, and flutter some more, and not stop. I couldn't catch my breath, and I wondered how long it would take someone to find my body in my empty house. Everyone kept asking me my dieting secret. I'd dropped twenty pounds in two months and no one believed me when I said it was anxiety and stress.

I had a hummingbird heart and it beat a drum in my chest all day and night.

As I stared at that painting, I noticed an oddity of modernity that at first I did not like. There appeared to be a stick of wood stapled to the canvas. I found it out of place and too kitsch-y. It was painted a sloppy yellow. But as I stood and stared, lost in the rumbling sea, and the bleeding, drowning heart—my eye was drawn to that yellow beam of wood.

A beacon in a storm-tossed sea, for a storm-tossed heart.

A way home.

Last night I lay on my bed and thought of you. My heart fluttered and not in that panicky-way, but for joy. I remembered the late night heart palpitations and feeling so lost and unloved I didn't know what I would do. I remembered what it was to be a heart at sea. And for once, I didn't feel lost.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fazed by Nothing, Awed by Everything

Took this in the middle of writing this blog. MULTI-TASKING!
It's no secret that I've been seeking peace and equanimity my whole life. As a child I used to climb a tree in my yard and hug it to my little body as tightly as I could. Something about the seeming permanence of the tree, the solidity of it, the depth of its roots and the height of its branches—all made me feel safe. What was going on inside my house was definitely not safe. I imagined that the tree was my mother, holding me in the arms of its branches and I was soothed.

So it was that I was seeker from way back. When I hit college I found a deep connection to Buddhism and that helped lend me a certain sense of peace. At least I felt like I had found some answers. When the Buddha said, "Life is suffering," I said, "Hell yeah!" I feel like he got where I was coming from and knew which way to guide me. 

I've also spent a lot of time in therapy. I saw my first therapist at 14 and I've kind of been in therapy, off and on, ever since. I've learned a lot from my therapists. A lot of that has coincided with what Buddhism has taught me. I've learned to not be so attached to my ego—or at least be aware of when my ego is bumping up against itself and/or others.

A lesson I learned in my twenties and thirties was that everything wasn't about me. That blew my mind. As a child who felt abandoned by her parents, I was pretty well convinced that everything was my fault. My mom drank because I was a bad kid. My dad left us because I was a bad kid. You get the idea. Kids are all ego.

But see, you're supposed to let go of that as you get older. If you don't have anyone there to guide you to that knowledge, to support and cradle you in their arms—soothe you—well, you might get stuck there. So I had to pay for that love and knowledge. I think I bought my first therapist's Lexus.

Totally worth it, by the way.

Now that I'm in my forties, I'm continuing to seek solace and peace of mind. My husband and I have found a terrific marriage counselor who complements our work with our individual therapists. Something I've learned from her is that we're always going to annoy each other.

I know. We've paid her a lot of money to learn that.

The thing is, it's okay if we annoy each other. It's not the end of the world. I think I'm the sort of person who can panic over everything. Any disagreement or irritation can be a sign that everything is about to go to hell.

But it's not like that anymore.

Maybe it was like that when I was a little girl who had to escape to the trees. But now I'm a grown woman with a lot of resources. I don't have to be so rattled by every little thing. As I wrote yesterday, if I allow myself to worry over every little thing, I'm ruining a really great time in my life.

This morning, I heard another snippet of wisdom from a different yoga teacher.

"Fazed by nothing, awed by everything."

That's how the yogis live. And that's how the buddhas live too. It's what I've been looking for my whole life. Things are going to go wrong. People will disappoint you. Crap will break in your house. And truly terrible things will happen. But if we can maintain our own inner stability in the face of it all, we can keep our feet planted on the ground. We can trust the deep roots of our own abilities and spirit to persevere. And we can be present enough to enjoy the beautiful moments that are happening all around us, all the time.

Right now, even. In this moment here.

I want to live like that. Fazed by nothing, awed by everything. Hard times will come and go. You will survive them. You'll survive them even when you're quite convinced they'll kill you. I've been hurt so badly I thought I'd never breathe again let alone love again.

And yet here I am.

In love again. In marriage counseling. Still seeing a therapist. Taking an anti-depressant and going to yoga every damn day. Not going to temple enough. Slowly plodding through my first book. But man, I'm putting one foot in front of the other and there have been many times in my life that I honestly didn't think that could happen.

After each heartbreak, each disappointment, each total and complete decimation of the life I once had—I pick myself up and I move on. I make something new. I get stronger and I get better. And now I've got two kids and a husband who fill me with a sense of awe I never thought I'd know.

My knowledge of love has expanded. My faith in it has multiplied. I'm filling up where I once was empty.

When I ride my bike to my therapist this afternoon, I'll ride under the branches of the trees and I'll be awed by the way the September light plays on the leaves. I heard someone once describe this certain quality of light as "God Light." In Buddhism, God is everywhere and everything. I am God. You are God. The tree is God. The light that dapples its leaves is God.

Why wouldn't we be awed by everything when everything is God? Everything is holy. All of it, good, bad and indifferent. Flattened on the floor by heartbreak. Lifted up by new love. Holy. Sitting here right now, writing this blog. Holy. You there, reading it. Holy holy holy.

Now to work on that whole "Fazed by nothing" thing.

Ah well.

I'm a work in progress.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Just Because You Think That Sh*t, Doesn't Mean It's True

Oh lord, it's a yoga selfie.
Part of working from home is having more time to think. Of course that's beneficial to the creative process and allows you to get into the deeper waters of thought and inspiration. But more time to think can also be a bit of a double-edged sword for some of us.

More time to think can also mean you have more time to think crappy thoughts. More time to worry. More time to obsess. More time to doubt yourself. I'm good at all of those things, even with limited time.

I've been trying to keep myself chill by doing yoga every day and by walking and/or biking most places in town. These activities put me in a more peaceful frame of mind. But eventually I have to get back to brass tacks. And it's either working on projects for clients, working on my book, or working around the house for my family. Those are deep wells of possible anxiety.

Plus I just quit my job. My big-deal job. The job that was supposed to be the culmination of 15 years in the advertising industry working my way up slowly and steadily to my "dream job" as a social media manager at one of the major automotive manufacturers. Turns out my dream job wasn't so dreamy for me, personally. Having been in advertising agencies for so many years, it turns out that I'm more suited to working with other creatives than working in a huge corporate machine.

And that's okay.

You don't know what you like until you try it. Right?

But you could see how it might produce some anxiety-laden thoughts after quitting a big deal job to go out on your own. To be your own boss. To drum up your own business and to finish writing that damn book you've been working on for over ten years. There's a lot of pressure to make it all work.

And I don't want to let anyone down.

Most of all my husband, who's supporting me in this major life move.

I find myself spending a lot of time worrying about him and whether he's happy. I find myself worrying about my new clients and wondering whether they're happy. And now that I have more time to spend with my children, I worry more about whether they're happy too.

Sometimes more time is more time to worry. But I heard something really great in my yoga class this morning.

"Just because you think that shit, doesn't mean it's true."

Man, did that message stick. I think sometimes I worry myself into believing something is true. I imagine all sorts of things. I imagine people are disappointed in me. And then it changes the way I feel about myself. It changes the whole tenor of my day. And then it changes the way I treat others. It's like I've created this vortex of doubt and disappointment and then I've shit all over something truly beautiful.

My husband has given me a wonderful opportunity to start my own business and finish my book. Yet I could ruin that gift by worrying it away into something negative. My clients have given me a wonderful opportunity to do the work I love without all the layers of bureaucracy and second-guessing that comes with big agencies and corporations. My children have the wonderful opportunity to have more time with their mom and to have a mom that is less stressed.

I could ruin all of that with my worries. With my self-created worries. Worries that I myself turn into a reality.

Just because I think that shit, doesn't mean it's true.

I needed to hear that today. It took me back to a good place. I find myself joyful. I find myself noticing the way the light plays on the leaves on this terrific September day. The words are flowing out of my fingers. I feel such love for my husband that I want to smother him in a big hug when he gets home. And I can't wait to pick up my daughter and ride her home on the bike while we talk about her day.

These things are true.

These things are good.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Slowing Down for the Creative Brain

Writers need time to think. To ponder. To wander and saunter under the trees and through the grass. Maybe painters too. Hell maybe everybody. I know for me and my writing, if I don't have time to get to that dreamy space where you can retreat into the deep recesses of your dark and poetic mind, the writing isn't going to happen. Sure sometimes I can force it. I mean, heck, if I just force myself to start writing a blog usually something will happen. I'm not saying it will be any good, but there will be words on a page by the time I'm done.

But when I have time to walk under a cope of leaves, when I notice a squirrel skittering across a sidewalk, or I cruise on my bicycle down the street and see the same old man jogging in the same tracksuit he wore yesterday, my mind starts to loosen up a bit. I get in the space where ideas bloom. I remember I do have something to say.

It's hard to get there when you're always in a big damn hurry. I'm not saying it's impossible. Just harder. Working full time at an office, commuting back and forth, white knuckling it through traffic to pick up my kids on time from aftercare, feeding them, helping them with homework, bathing them, doing the laundry, Windexing the counters, running the errands, doing all the things all the time. So many things. So much of the time. It's just not conducive to this. 

This is sitting at a table on the sidewalk downtown. This is me leaving my house because the contractors next door were making a racket. This is me people watching. This is me noticing the breeze in that Honey Locust tree over there. And catching a snippet of conversation as two ladies walk by. This is me thinking that the sound of buses and trucks in downtown Birmingham, Michigan always reminds me of the sound of buses in downtown Gap, France. Maybe it's the idle of the diesel engine? I know it seems like a stretch but that's the way my synapses fire.

And that's the point of all of this. I needed time to allow for this electrical dance inside my brain. That's where the good stuff happens. Funny how keeping us all cooped up inside buildings all day is supposed to keep us productive, yet it prevents our brains from producing anything magical.

And isn't that what creativity is? Magic? The dark hat of my brain. The wizard's wand. Incantations. Sudden flashes of light. I think I'm gonna finish this book after all. I'd like to thank my husband for making this happen. For giving me the space and the freedom to do this thing that required time to get done.

I'm listening to the sound of coins slipping in a parking meter slot and it reminds me of the sound of pay phones. That's a connection that won't even exist any more in Millennial brains. Like the sound of horseshoes clip clopping down the street. The click of the tongue to hurry them on. The smell of leather and dung. The feel of dust from the street in your nose. I could live a thousand lifetimes just sitting here, underneath the trees. Or perhaps write those lifetimes in a book. Or two.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Toe Pinchers and Other Exotic Pets

Grace, fearless before the sea and its sea creatures.
My five-year-old daughter Grace is terrified of bugs. I mean, the horror goes so deep that if she even sees an ant from 10 feet away or a fruit fly in the same domicile, she screams bloody murder.

Because of this total and absolute terror, she has developed an uncanny ability to spot the smallest of insects in the largest of rooms. Grace's eyes scan the horizon upon entry into any new environment. Like sophisticated radar technology known only to one small blond child and the United States Navy, Grace's eyes dart around the perimeter scanning for any discernible creature with multiple legs, wings or hard-shelled body armor. One teeny tiny gnat tucked in the upper quadrants of a cathedral ceiling, and Grace is quick to sound the alarm:


And then she screams and shoots like a bullet out of the room.

My husband and I have marveled at her ability. She's really got a sharp eye, that one. We both wonder if there will be any employable skill that could evolve from this. Jeweler? Microscopic scientist? Atom-splitter?

Recently, we took our little Bug Hunter to South Carolina for a family vacation. We were mainly looking for a place with warm swimming pools and warm ocean waters. Being from Michigan, we were tired of visiting lakes that left our children with blue lips and shivering bodies. We wanted warmth! We wanted sun! We wanted both sandy beaches and chlorine! We wanted it all!

Sure, in the back of my mind, I wondered if South Carolina had bugs like Florida. But we were going to a fancy Golf Resort. This wasn't our usual rustic vacation so I had high hopes. When we unlocked the door to our cottage on stilts, it was immaculate and new. All surfaces were shiny. And so it was that we continued our bug-free existence for many days.

I thought South Carolina was in every way superior to Florida. You had palm trees, warm ocean waters, sandy beaches and … no bugs! Why had I ever even bothered with Florida when South Carolina existed? I couldn't believe my ignorance.

Late one night, around 3:45 a.m., I heard a piercing scream that shook the walls of our cottage and all the palm trees that surrounded it. I stumbled from my room to my daughter's, where I found her pointing at the wall, yelling:


"Grace, you can't keep screaming your head off every time you see a bug," I mumbled and picked her up. "Now where is this bug you're so afraid of…"

"There!" she pointed at the wall and tried to launch herself further away from the wall in question.

I turned to observe what I thought had to be some sort of electrical device or appliance affixed to the wall that I had not previously noticed. It was close to the television set that was attached to the wall, so my weary head surmised that it must be related to the big-screen TV. Perhaps a cable box or the WIFI router?

I scrunched my eyes up and tried to focus in the dark.

It suddenly dawned on me that this was no electrical device.

This was a Volkswagen bus parked on the hotel wall.

I hoofed it out of there, my daughter and I clinging to each other in mutual terror, through the living room and back into my own bed, where I deposited my daughter next to my husband.

"WE HAVE A SITUATION," I announced, loudly, launching him out of the bed.

"What situation? A bug?" He twisted his boxers around his waist and prepared to do battle.

"That, Sir, is no bug."

He sighed as if I was being ridiculous and disappeared into the dark. I waited to hear the THUMP as he crushed the enormous jungle beast into the wall.

Instead, he slid back into bed.

"Listen to me carefully," he began.

My eyes widened in the dark.

"I did not K.I.L.L. I.T." He spelled the words so the small child shivering next to me would not understand.

"Why???" I gasped.

"It's too F.U.C.K.I.N.G. E.N.O.R.M.O.U.S."

"You have to K.I.L.L. I.T.!" I said.

"With what?"

"Your S.H.O.E.?"

"You have got to be kidding me."

"A broom?"

"I'd need an M-80 to K.I.L.L. that thing."

I snickered.

He snickered.

"I saw a fly swatter in the laundry room," he offered.

I snorted.

"Maybe you could C.A.T.C.H. I.T.?"

"With what?!?"

"A C.U.P.?"

"Are you H.I.G.H.?"

"She could keep it as a P.E.T."

"You are S.I.C.K."

"Seriously. What do we tell her?" I said.

"We tell her I K.I.L.L.E.D. it."


"We L.I.E. to her."


Later, as I tried to sleep and not think about the gigantic beast that was living in the room next to me, I noticed the bedroom was lit up by my husband's phone.

"What are you looking at?"

He flashed the screen at me, which was full of enormous black beetle-looking insects.

"It's either a T.O.E. P.I.N.C.H.E.R. or a C.O.C.K.R.O.A.C.H."

"Stop talking to me." I closed my eyes and tried to not think about my bare toes under the thin blanket.

"We'll tell her it's a B.E.E.T.L.E." he said.

"We're certainly not telling her it's called a T.O.E. P.I.N.C.H.E.R. Jesus!"

"Are you talking about the beetle?" a little voice chimed in from the dark.

"No, Baby. We're talking about something else." I said.

"Did Daddy kill it?"

"Yes. Yes he did."

She shivered her little body against mine. And mine shivered back.

The next day, as the full light of morning flooded our room, my husband nudged my elbow. I looked up at him and he pointed at the door wall, along the curtain. An enormous bug sat there and in that moment, deep within me, I felt something die.

My husband lifted his flip flop from the floor and pointed at the bug. I looked down at the sweet little girl nestled against me, sleeping peacefully. I looked back up at my husband nodded. I nodded back.

With a great THWAP! the deed was done and my husband spirited the carcass off, I know not where.

"What was that?" my little angel had opened her eyes.

"It was nothing."

"Did Daddy kill the beetle?"

"Yes. Yes he did."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer Storms: A Reflection on Parenting

My daughter is at the age now where she has nightmares and assorted creatures scare her in the dark.

All of this means that I am jolted awake by the sharp rap tap tap of five-year-old knuckles on my bedroom door, usually around 2 or 3 a.m. Did I mention I have to be at work at 7:30 a.m.?

We forget this part. We parents think we just need to make it through the first few months, six months, year, two years, three. Sleep deprivation only lasts so long. Tantrums have a limited duration. They'll grow out of it and our lives will go back to normal.

But normal never comes.

You find yourself stumbling in the dark to soothe another baby five years later. Only it's the same baby and this time there's thunder and lightening instead of an empty tummy. Sometimes my eleven-year-old son wakes me up in the middle of the night too, but not as often anymore. Sometimes it's just to tell me, "I can't sleep!" Other times it's to vomit 360 degrees all over the hallway walls.

Last night, as I lay on the floor of my daughter's bedroom sleeping on an all-too-thin duvet, a child tucked uncomfortably under my arm and a cat furiously purring behind my knees, I wondered at how she would never remember any of this.

So much of parenting is without credit.

Maybe it's the most selfless form of love? You sacrifice sleep, comfort and barrels of cash for these little beings and you ask nothing in return. I mean, maybe you ask them to make their bed or empty the dishwasher, but does the really even out?

I gave you life!

I comforted you in the middle of the night!

When she's thirteen I'm sure she'll roll her eyes at me and say, "Gawd, Mother!" Or she'll shoot me a dirty look like my eleven-year-old shot me the other day when I wouldn't buy him an Xbox game that was rated M for Mature.

I snuggled that boy in the middle of the night too. When he cried out, I raced to stroke his brow and tell him everything would be okay. I do the same for her now. And neither of them will remember it. Or care. They'll just be annoyed at whatever it is I'm preventing them from doing on any given day.

And it will hurt.

Because I'm the one that comforted you. I took you from the dark and made you safe. How did I become the enemy? It's a hard thing, this parenting. We take them helpless from the womb and it's our job to protect and nurture them.

But then it's also our job to let them go.

In the end, they owe us nothing. They did not ask for life. We willingly gave it. We raised them and loved them to such a degree we think it might kill us. And then they just walk off into the good green earth and don't think much about us anymore.

They have someone else to love.

They have their own life to live.

They'll forget to call.

And it will be right. It will be good. They will function without us and we will have done our job well. 

But oh how we'll miss those nights of thunderstorms and hard floors.A little girl crooked awkwardly under your arms. A cat purring on your leg.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How I Married the Next Door Neighbor

Did I mention that my husband's name is Fred?
Ten years ago I broke up with my ex and moved out. It was a rather hasty event. Imagine me, in a huff, packing up all of my belongings and cramming them into a Jeep Wrangler...including my infant son.

I don't think my friends really believed it was over, over. I'm sure they all thought we would get back together. But this time I was done, done. I'd moved in with a girlfriend (bless her heart) and despite the fact that no one else believed me, I knew it was finished for good this time.

"As god as my witness," I told my girlfriends, a glass of wine raised to the heavens, "I will go out on a date!"

None of them believed me. They rolled their eyes and waited for me to come up with the list of excuses of why I was going to go back to the ex. But I got serious. I went on and resisted the urge to rewrite my profile a dozen times. I browsed through all of the men available to me in my immediate area. I scrolled through photos of smiling faces like I'd scrolled through sale sweaters on J.Crew.

Finally, I found a cute one.

He was tall, he had dark hair and he was handsome. Plus he had an excellent vocabulary and used compound sentences. I clicked the "Wink" button and waited to see what would happen. Normally I would never initiate contact with a man. I like to be found. But I didn't have a profile picture and figured I'd have to throw myself out there if I was going to prove my girlfriends wrong.

Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome responded to my wink.

"You are a smartass," he wrote. "I myself am one of those."

My eyes widened. I'd written a smartassed profile and he'd not only read it, he called me out on it! In my profile I'd mentioned my likes and dislikes. Included in my list of dislikes: "Old ladies."

"I can't stand old people," he wrote. "As a matter of fact, I splayed an old blue hair out on the sidewalk just this afternoon and her cane clattered across the sidewalk."

What was this?

This was new!

This was different!

He was playing my game, singing my song. Soon the emails were firing back and forth, one barb exchanged for another. Each witticism deftly returned, sailing across the internet like a well-placed badminton birdie.

And so it was that FredFromFresno and SpinDoctor510 fell in a deep state of like. Eventually we took our email conversations to the phone, and once on the phone, he asked me out on a real-live date. We discussed the logistics of the date, of course. I lived in Troy, he lived in Birmingham. We decided to meet in Royal Oak. It was convenient for both of us.

"I used to live in Birmingham," I said.

"Oh really? Where?" he asked.


"Downtown where?"

I named the cross streets.

"Where exactly on those streets?"

I named the specific street.

"Where on that street?"

Well this was getting awfully specific.

"SW or NE corner?" he continued.

"I don't do directions! Why does it matter!?!" I laughed.

Finally, I simply told him the names of the neighbors on either side of my ex's house.

"Oh my god!" he said. "You're ___________'s ex!" and he named my ex.

"You know him?"

"I live two doors down!"

We both paused in stunned silence.

"How is it that I never met you?" I was confused.

"I rented out that house and bought a bigger house!"

"And you moved back?"

"Yes, I moved back in after my wife and I separated!"

"So you live two doors down my from my ex?"

"Yes. Yes I do."

More stunned silence between the two of us. This was new.

"Does this mean you don't want to go out with me?" I asked.

"No. I still want to go out with you."

"Well I still want to go out with you too."

"So I'll see you on Thursday?"


"See ya, neighbor."

"Very funny."

I married him five years later. Give or take a few hiccups and missteps. We made a cute baby girl along the way. And now I live two doors down from my son's father. Life is funny. Life is strange. But somehow, it all works out just the way it's supposed to.

And it all started out with a wink and a couple of smartasses.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Thing About Bullies

*This is an older blog post that I'm reposting for a friend who is dealing with a bully. Thought it might help those of you who are dealing with bullies too.*

Most of my life I have dealt with various bullies by either trying to stay under their radar or by trying to kill them with kindness. What heart of stone could resist my continuously applied sweetness and light? Surely I could tame the savage beast and hence be special enough for the bully to be kind to me and bully anyone who messed with me.

Turns out that's exhausting and doesn't actually give you much in return. I don't know about you, but I don't have people messing with me very often. Besides, it's usually the bully in question who is messing with me, so what's the point of befriending him in the first place?

Lately, I've had enough of bullies and I've been speaking up for myself. Of course the conflict riles me up and stresses me out. I prefer that everyone be nice, including me. But enough is enough. Turns out being a doormat just encourages bullies to wipe their feet on you.

So the other day I dressed down a bully. Oh, I went in for the kill. I sliced and diced the bully with the long knives of a verbal ninja and the bully didn't know what hit him. I was mostly stunned by how easy it was. When I actually lashed out and took the bully to task, he had nothing to say. It was almost like slapping around a baby. He fell apart under the truth being hurled at him, no holds barred, no filter, just the brutal truth. One after the other. Brutal truth punches left and right.

It wasn't nice. It wasn't pretty. And he probably felt completely emasculated and like a ginormous loser after I was done with him. I imagined I would feel really bad about it after all was said and done, but oddly, I felt empowered. Emboldened. "Don't mess with me." Hells yeah!

Kinda like a bully, right? I worried about that. Had I just turned into the aggressor? No, I was merely holding the line, announcing that I have boundaries and they will not be crossed. Bullies like to leap over your boundaries and then slap you in the face. This particular bully once knocked me around a parking lot and I had to get a restraining order to make sure he didn't leap over that boundary again.

And he hasn't.

That's the trouble with bullies. We want them to be reasonable. We want them to be good, to simply obey the rules so everyone can live in peace. I don't want any trouble. I just want to be left alone. But nooooo.

Yet the guilt persisted. Was I now the bully? The bully had called ME a bully and that threw me off, I admit it. Doormats aren't accustomed to being called bullies. We want people to like us. And to have clean feet. So I did a little Internet research on how to deal with a bully.

It didn't help.

In column after column I read about how it is best to avoid conflict with a bully. (Duh.) Article after article spelled out how the bully is actually a very psychically fragile being. A bully is merely the gruff mask to a terribly insecure ego. Wracked with insecurities, they lash out in order to protect their tiny, tiny egos.

Some articles went on to say that you should encourage the bully and praise the bully for what they do right and not mention where they fall short. Are you kidding me? If that's not a co-dependent and dysfunctional relationship I don't know what is. Jesus.

So should I praise the bully when he stops grabbing me by the arms and banging my head against the wall?

"Thanks for stopping your attack! That was really nice of you and showed a lot of restraint! Good job!"

Screw that. I may be trying to progress along the Buddhist path, but I'm thinking the Buddha wouldn't think I was showing myself compassion if I let a bully continue to scare me. So I looked around a little more, ignored the self-help writers and went straight for the politicians.

This is what I found:

"If you let a bully come in your front yard, he'll be on your porch the next day and the day after that he'll rape your wife in your own bed."    

- Lyndon B. Johnson

That's what I'm talking about. I'm not a bully. I'm not prancing all over someone else's lawn. I'm just telling one asshat to stay off mine.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Everyone Says I Should Do Yoga

"You're a Buddhist? Do you do yoga?"

I don't even want to tell you how many times I've been asked that question. And if you really are asking me that question, the answer would have been "No. I don't." I may have glared at you too.

I've been asked this so many times and it irritates me so much that it's become a standing joke between my husband and me. He sends me articles about yoga or if someone asks me that question in front of him, he hides a huge grin behind his hand. 

Despite my general irritation with yoga, I have tried it off and on throughout the years. But it never took. Many yoga classes are too slow and too boring. Some are too fast and too confusing. I almost got into yoga last summer when I tried Hot Vinyasa. The sweat made me feel like I was actually accomplishing something. But most of the teachers were either too new-agey and soft-spoken or too hip and full of themselves.

But when my friend asked me to try a new place a few weeks ago, I said "Yes." I wanted to spend time with my friend. Plus I'm super stressed out and my body is super inflexible. I mean, despite not liking yoga, I've always known my body could benefit from it.

I carry my stress in my shoulders and neck. I'm a huncher from way back. Maybe it's because I was too tall too soon? As a young girl and teen, I hunched down to try and seem like I wasn't taller than all of the boys. And I don't handle conflict well. If there's tension in the room, my shoulders go up to my ears as though I'm shielding myself from a blow.

You try a lifetime of that and see if you're not wound as tight as a drum.

So I went to yoga.

And I liked it.

Like really, really liked it.


I found a class that just jived with me all around. It was after the kids went to bed. The class is never busy because it's the last one of the night and everyone else is probably going to bed. The yoga room is lit by candles and there's gentle music playing instead of hip modern tunes that are meant to make me push myself to the edge like a goddamn spinning class.

That's not what I need.

I need to lay on a mat in a hot room with only flickering candlelight. 

On top of all that, it seems I've found a yoga teacher who speaks my language. He reminds me of the guiding teacher at my temple. He "gets" it. He's enlightened without being pious. He drops a lot of f-bombs and makes me laugh. He tells stories about letting go of all the shit that got you all riled up during the day and the way he tells it, it doesn't seem like some new-age pretentious bullshit. 

It just seems like truth.

The other night, as we took a big breath in and then slowly exhaled, something happened. 

"What if, when you exhaled this last time, you really let go? What if you let go of that thing that has burdened you the most? What would that be like? What would that feel like? What if with this breath, you finally let that shit go?" he said.

I thought of that place in my heart, the tender spot. That source of all my heartache. And instead of rolling my eyes, I allowed myself to consider it.

"What if I let it go?" 

For a moment, while I exhaled, I imagined that I breathed out that hurt—flushed it out of my body, and where it once was, I was light.

Then I felt tears falling down the sides of my face. A part of me wanted to shake my fist at the room and say, "Damn you, Yoga! You finally got me!" But the other part of me felt … happy and relieved.

So I laid on the floor in the candlelight and kind of rejoiced in those tears.

Namaste, indeed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nothing Much to Say in Detroit.

An aptly-named vin.

I recently received 130 emails notifying me that my blog was being spammed by some spambot selling presumably fake and/or stolen Michael Kors purses. Or was it Michael Cores? Whatever the case, it brought my attention over and over again to this neglected blog. Each *ping* of an email received was another tap on the shoulder saying, "Hello. You have a blog. Why don't you write in it?"

But as is the case with most writer's block, the moment I feel as though I must post in my blog, my mind goes completely blank. Even once trivial thoughts and ideas begin to emerge, I immediately dismiss them as "not good enough" or "already posted as status updates on Facebook."

I bought these today. I'm putting them here now in order to add color.

I've been thinking I would post while I'm in Paris. I mean, if you can't come up with writing material in Paris, what the hell kind of lame excuse for a writer are you, anyway? I'll have nothing but time over the course of six days in the most wonderful city in the world. I'll bring my big camera and take real photographs. I'll post them artfully with witty quips about Parisians. It will be wonderful.

This is my cat Obi-Wan Kenobi. He used to be feral too.

But what can I post about Detroit? I've had three jobs in the past six months. After working in the same ad agency for seven years, I left. That was momentous enough. But then I left the new job after 12 weeks for a new, new job. All this newness and change has been quite exhausting. It hasn't left me with much energy or inspiration to write. Besides, I'm terrible at change. I've also been horribly homesick for agency life. It's like being in the creative department of an ad agency allows you to go completely feral and I've been trying to get domesticated at these new jobs. I want to drink beer at work and swear at my co-workers. I miss having remote controlled helicopters buzzing over my head. I miss rock bands and cappuccino machines. I miss all the beards and tattoos. My god, I even miss leggings as pants, if only to mock them with my work partner. So yes. I'm a little homesick and dealing with change and all of that leaves me creatively challenged.

These are paper cats. I made them. I'm not sure why either.

Paris. Paris is when I'll have something to write about that is interesting and beautiful. Profundity will pour out of me like a heavy cab and creativity will spread across my brain like fois gras. I'll sit where Hemingway and Fitzgerald once sat and fantasize about never coming back to the bourgeois Etats-Unis.

I'll write then. When I have those kind of thoughts. Readable thoughts. Dreamer's thoughts. Thoughts that will take you away from wherever it is you're sitting right now, reading this, wishing you were somewhere else.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Giving Money to Strangers.

My husband showed me this video a few weeks ago and I haven't been able to shake it off. Perhaps that's because he sent it right around the New Year and I had resolutions on my mind? Perhaps it's because I'm hormonal or an overly sensitive-type person? For whatever reason, the video confirmed something I'd suspected all along.

It's better to help than not to help.

I know we all have reasons for not helping. Too busy. Don't want to cause a ruckus. Don't like strangers. Don't know what someone is actually going to do with the money. Etc. I've had all of those thoughts go through my head when confronted with someone asking for money or donations of any kind. Every time I say no or pass them by, it nags at me.

I'm not gonna lie.

It just doesn't sit well with me.

Ever since I've watched this video, I've decided to say yes to everyone. If you've got a cup, I'm putting money in it. If you want canned food for the homeless, I'm going to buy a can. Although I've only had two opportunities to give people money and one opportunity to donate food, it feels good that I've said yes three times rather than no.

The two men I helped were both standing on the side of the road, on different days. The first man was easy to help. He was standing outside on a frigid day and I waved him over to my car. When I gave him the money he said, "Bless you."

The second gentleman was a little more out of my way, but I decided that annoying the cars behind me was more important than passing up another opportunity to help. That, in and of itself, is outside of my comfort zone.

"You're a lifesaver," he said and our eyes locked. I was caught in a moment of raw humanity. I was not staring into the eyes of a junkie. I was not staring into the eyes of a conman. I was looking into the eyes of a fellow human being who was suffering and who was grateful for my small gesture.

It almost crushed me.

To think of all the people I'd said No to because I was afraid they might be drug users, alcoholics, conmen, lazy and whatever other negative connotations I could come up with to excuse my inhumanity. But the fact remains — not giving people money always makes me feel bad.

But giving never makes me feel bad.

I feel more connected.

I feel more human.

And it just feels right.

Maybe giving to others is actually a selfish act? In trying to help others, I actually end up feeling better about myself.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Case of the Very Strange Speech Impediment

I told my husband how a former boyfriend called me "Structure." It was his pet name for me, and yes, it was odd. That boyfriend thought I said the word "Structure" in a strange way and then he would imitate me, really enunciating the consonants in the word.


I thought it was just a bit of silliness. I didn't really think it was a real thing. Maybe a harmless exaggeration on what was a hardly noticeable trait.

But when I told my husband the story, he laughed.

"Yeah, you really do chew up the consonants in that word."

We both chuckled and I filed it under "Even More Charming Quirks for Mandy." I figured the way I said "Structure" was similar to the way I organized objects on restaurant tables or the way I obsessed about my appearance. Quirky. Odd. But totally not a real problem.

As the years have gone by, I've obviously admitted to myself that I do in fact have an eating disorder and I do have OCD. I thought my weird behaviors and thoughts were just that … little oddities that I could control if I really wanted to.

But now I admit that these things are well outside the realm of my control and are most definitely not "normal." And I'm fine with that. I figured "Structure" was something I did intentionally and that I could stop it if I really wanted to.

It came up again the other day and I decided to put an end to the charade. I needed to prove to myself and my husband that I could say "Structure" like a normal person. I mean, between the OCD and the eating disorder, my neuroses plate is full.

"Teach me how to say 'structure' right."

"Are you serious?" my husband started laughing immediately and closed his eyes.

"C'mon. I mean it. What am I doing wrong? STRUCK-TURE. STRUCK-TURE. What's wrong with that?"

"It sounds like your chewing the letters. You're really getting right up in those consonants. Relax your mouth a little."

"SCHTRUCKTURRRRRE." I looked at him hopefully. He started laughing again.

"You're pushing it too far to the front of your mouth or something. Just say, 'structure."


"Oh my god, you really love those consonants," he started chuckling again.

"Stop it! I want to fix it! SCHTRUCKTURRRE. SCHTRUCTURRRRE."

"Stop saying it. You're just saying it the same way over and over again. Try to soften the consonants."


"Now you're whispering it."


"Now you're making an insane face. What are you doing?"

I'm trying to change the shape of my mouth when I say it. SSSSSSSTRUCKTURRRRE."

"You look like an crazy person. Stop grimacing. Put less emphasis on the Ts and the Rs."


"Now you're whispering and grimacing. I think you have too much of an "SCH" sound in there."


"Now you're hissing like a snake."


"Now you've dropped all the vowels."




"No. Just let it go."


"It's cute. Just leave it alone."




"It's not working."

At this point, our four-year-old daughter walked in the room.

"Hey Grace, say STRUCTURE!" I said.

"SCHTRUCTURRRRRRR!" she said back, joyfully.

"Oh god, no," whispered my husband.

And I felt oddly satisfied. Like I'd passed something on of myself. I will live on in the consonants of my progeny.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolutions Should Be Fun and Should Not Use the Word Should. Shoot. I've Already Broken My Own Rule.

I read a Facebook post by my friend John in which he gathered together sundry posts from last year's New Year's resolutions. Though he tagged the people whom he'd quoted, he did not identify who said what. One post read, "I prefer my New Year's resolutions to be fun."

And that one rang true to me. I don't know if that was my actual post or if it's only wishful thinking. I do know that my resolution last year was to sleep naked more often. Though I started out strong in the new year, just as with other, less fun resolutions, I slacked off on this as the year went by. By year's end, I was more often in a tattered baseball jersey in bed rather than in my birthday suit.

But I stick by my premise (or whoever's premise it might have been). Resolutions should be fun. Otherwise the new year starts out on such a punitive note. Lose weight. Get more sleep. Work harder. Work out. Spend more time with your kids. Eat right. Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Read more. Watch less TV. Quit Facebook.

New Year's resolutions are for the puritans in all of us, I swear.

I'd rather resolve to spend more time with friends. To push myself outside of my comfort zone. To do something I've never done before. Go somewhere new. Shake things up a little. Activate the gray matter in my brain so it doesn't slowly slip into atrophy as the years go by.

This year I would like to spend more time with friends. Go out with my girlfriends once a month. Host more parties. Not make such a big deal out of having parties. The house doesn't have to be perfect. (It already is, let's be honest.) I don't have to cook all of the food. I don't have to buy all of the booze. (My friends come with plenty.) I think my perfectionism gets in the way of my socialism. (Yes I know it doesn't mean that.)

I'd like to resolve to be more impetuous and less perfectionist.

I'd also like to get a little more uncomfortable sometimes. I went to a Startup Grind event in December. I saw Veronika Scott speak about how she started The Empowerment Plan. Her initiative is one to help the homeless. Her company makes coats that turn into sleeping bags for the homeless. The coats are actually made by women who were formerly homeless. Therefore Scott is not only making a product that helps the homeless, her company itself is employing the homeless to make that product. It was in inspirational evening on a dark, cold night in Detroit. A night I didn't feel like going downtown. A night I just wanted to leave work and go veg at home in front of HGTV.

There are Startup Grind events each month in Detroit. And each event features a different entrepreneur from our city. I'd like to resolve to go to Startup Grind each month. Once a month I'd fling myself out of my comfort zone. Once a month I'd go out instead of going home. Once a month I'd meet new people instead of hermitting away in my own home.

That's a start.

I'd like to go to temple more often. I'd like to connect to my sangha. Every time I go to temple, I leave with a head full of good thoughts. I'm often inspired to write. Sunday mornings at Still Point Zen Temple last much longer than the hour or so of time they require. That hour feeds my mind for many hours and days afterwards.

I'd also like to be naked more in 2015 than I was in 2014. Even though I fell off the wagon last year, I want to make another effort. Humans are animals. We crave closeness. We crave intimacy. Babies can die if they don't get enough skin-to-skin contact with their mothers. Little baby monkeys prefer the comfort and warmth of a cloth-covered fake mother than the cold, hard fake wire mother with a bottle of formula. You see, comfort and warmth takes precedence over even food.

We often forget this.

Are our New Year's resolutions meant to be punitive? A strict set of rules on how to be better people? Better looking? Thinner? Healthier? Smarter? Or should our resolutions make us happier? What makes us happy? What does science say?

I've heard it time and time again, but our minds crave new experiences. Our minds crave change. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone in 2015. Do something inconvenient. Go to an event and meet new people. Wake up early on a Sunday. Get naked with your significant other even when it's cold and they're annoying.

Keep life interesting. Keep your brain guessing on what you might do next. You might be surprised by how happy getting out of your comfort zone makes you. It's counter-intuitive really.

But I find that the smartest things usually make the least sense at first.

Happy New Year to all of you. I'm making this post in all its imperfect glory. I'm uncomfortable with that, but here's me pushing myself out of my comfort zone on this first day in 2015. I challenge you to do the same.

And let me know how it goes.