Thursday, February 27, 2014

Do-overs

I would like a do-over.  I have had enough of this current path and I know I'm not doing enough to get off this path and I feel frozen in the panicky "what if I'm just a total disaster and my dreams are never going to come true and I'm going to find myself living in a cardboard box?"  The thought "my friends and family would never let that happen to me" is not as comforting as it ought to be, as I feel diminished that I have such a great support system and yet I'm STILL not figuring this out.

Deep breaths.  In, out.  In, out.  In, out.  Again.

***

Sometimes I feel like I am spiraling into darkness and that I am simply a walking disaster, and other times I feel like I'm just on the cusp of something.  All the clich├ęd stories offer small comfort: it's always darkest before the dawn; we must hit bottom in order to build upon bedrock; you only get a rainbow after the rain.

I have a meeting next week with my dream organization, the one I hope to one day work for, no matter where I go next.  It's an organization that does amazing cancer research, and their reputation is clean and beautiful (unlike some organizations, unfortunately).  So, I'm not floundering entirely.  I have another opportunity (I think/hope) with the hospital where I got my treatment, another well respected organization, and I would love to work there, too.  To have an in to these types of organizations is powerful and wonderful and a gift, as I'm trying to break into the industry and these are the top of the field, so I take comfort in that....even as I fear that I'm completely out of my depth.

***

I hear my own thoughts, see these words on the page, and shake my head sadly at myself.  My calm, mature, thoughtful PollyAnna self says, "Ease up, girlfriend.  Stay the course.  You're getting great feedback professionally, you've got a whole team of people in the industry helping you out, and you've got this.  Keep going!" but the frightened parts of me, the ones that are beyond thinking, are saying "You're a failure, you're a sham, you don't deserve this, you'll never get it..." and those ones are sometimes paralyzing me, stopping me from even trying, making me sit in front of job postings frozen in fear and unable to do the work of applying.

Here is what I'm trying to remember.

My moniker is appropriate, now as always, when I find myself feeling not the least bit optimistic.

Pollyanna was scared and lost her optimism sometimes, too, but nobody remembers that - they treat the character as if she was lacking the capacity for doubt, forgetting that it is only the fact that she overcame that fear in order to find the good that is what makes her so extraordinary.

"Fifteen minutes later, in the attic room, a lonely little girl sobbed into the tightly-clutched sheet: "I know, Father-among-the-angels, I'm not playing the game one bit not - not one bit.  But I don't believe even you could find anything to be glad about sleeping all alone 'way off up here in the dark - like this."

Pollyanna may have been the ultimate optimist, but she too experienced darkness, fear, doubt.  She wasn't above breaking down and trembling, certain that there was no goodness left.

I am allowed to have doubt and fear, right?

But living in doubt and fear is not my style; it doesn't suit me.  I'm desperate to shed these feelings, ill fitting as they are.  I don't know what to do with them!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  Nelson Mandela

I have managed cancer.  I have managed divorce.  I will manage unemployment.  But I think it's time I let go of the sheet, got out of the attic, and got to work.  I have some conquering to do.

Please wish me luck, offer up prayers, send good wishes.  This is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I don't even know why.  I'm struggling, but there is still a spark left, and I've got to turn it into a flame that becomes a supernova.  I'm exhausted and I don't know how to do that just now....but I'm going to try.

Here I go.

Friday, February 14, 2014

From Me to You on Valentine's Day

I believe that one of the most beautiful sentences ever spoken is "I see you."

Dear reader, I see you.  I see your struggles, your fears, your hopes.  I see your anger that life has not worked out the way you'd planned.  I see you when you're lonely.  I see you.  And I embrace you.  You are worthy of love, and this is my Valentine for you.

***

I have been in a terrible slump.  "Slump" is a word that doesn't convey just what it feels like to feel the doubts that I've been feeling lately.  Doubts that I have done anything right.  Doubts that I will ever get what I really want.  Doubts that I will ever be seen.  Doubts about my own worth.  Doubts that I will ever be held in love the way I wish to be held.

It's tough to find a metaphor around all that doubt that even touches on it.  I thought, "lost in a dark cave, too dark to see, damp and cold," but that doesn't sound right.  I thought "lost at sea, clinging to a log, fearful of the sharks that could come, almost too tired to hold on," but that's not it.  "Lost" is a common theme of the metaphors that I've come up with.

I'm lost, but I don't quite know where and I can't describe my surroundings because my mind is a blur of confusion, and the only thing I know for sure are the questions: Why?  When?  How?  What?  Where barely matters.

***

It is not easy to be a divorcee' in a world of intact families.  Today, my parents celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, and I mentioned getting together with them, but I was turned down because my dad told me that he was excited to go away for the weekend with his "bride."  He said, "Your mom bought lingerie!" and I had to nearly shout at him to stop talking - of course, because no child, no matter how old, wants to imagine what her mother does with her father when lingerie is involved (ack! please bleach my brain!), but also because it's hard to think about how I am surrounded by couples who really adore each other, marriages that maintain a spark for decades, and I am quite utterly, truly alone.

***

What is a girl to do?  What is a PollyAnna to do?  What should *I* do?

Misery is not my style, though it chases me sometimes.  I keep running away from misery, looking back over my shoulder to yell "GET LOST!" sometimes.  In a slump, I feel like stopping and just hanging out with misery, giving up...

But I won't.

***

This morning I greeted Katherine with a gift bag that was covered in hearts, and a cheerful "Happy Valentine's Day, sweetheart!"  She received her trinkets with a smile - the obligatory chocolate heart box, a little stuffed animal, a necklace with hearts on it purchased at Forever21.  I put a maple syrup heart on her oatmeal, sent her to school in her Valentine's outfit (heart necklace and earrings, and a t-shirt with a heart on it; she carried a bag of Valentine's, each with a Valentine's wrapped chocolate taped to it, to hand out to her classmates and teachers.

The table is set for six with a red tablecloth and my everyday white dishes; on each dinner plate there is a red heart box of chocolates, the cheap drugstore kind, wrapped in cellophane.  In the center of the table there are heart dishes filled with heart chocolates, and a dessert platter filled with pink frosted heart cookies; soon I'll make chocolate covered strawberries and a heart shaped chocolate cake to go with them.  Above the table, sparkly red hearts hang in a garland draped over the chandelier.  For dinner, another single mom and her daughter, plus two of Katherine's friends (whose parents are going out on dates, happy for my free babysitting on a day when babysitters are hard to find) are coming over for simple food - home made pizza (red and white) and salad.

I'll wear my red silk tank top over my skinny jeans, in a color tribute to the day.  (I'll have to wear a sweater too - it's not tank top weather!)

***

I can not control my loneliness.  I can not control my lack of understanding about my path.  I can not control the fear that if I am not in a loving relationship I must be turning into a crazy cat lady.  (We only have ONE cat, and she technically belongs to Katherine.)  My Valentine preparations feel a bit forced, because it would certainly be easier to curl up in a ball and sob.

But I won't, and that's why I'm PollyAnna.

I invited Katherine's friends over because I want their parents to celebrate love, glad as I am to have marriages around me that are still filled with love.  I invited a single friend so that she would not be alone, and so nor would I.  I made the house look festive because I want to feel festive, and "fake it 'til you make it" works a lot of the time.  I made the day special for Katherine, because I want her to grow up solid in the knowledge that I think that love is worth celebrating

***

Love is worth celebrating. 

Dear readers, if you are madly in love, I celebrate that with you today.  Your love for your beloved is proof to me that it is possible to find such a love, and I am grateful to you for modeling it.  Hold your beloved in your arms, close your eyes, and allow the joy of it to wash over you.  Whether you are a hearts and flowers kind of Valentine, or a "this is a Hallmark holiday" person, please take a moment to fully appreciate your beloved's existence today.

And dear readers, if you, like me, are alone, then I celebrate you today.  I celebrate your strength, your struggle, and your future.  As I look around my table this evening, with chattering children and all that dessert, I'll raise my glass of red wine to toast you.  We'll get through this, and I celebrate your courage - as well as my own - in moving forward.

***

Just think of all of the firsts that we have before us.  I believe that our loves await, and we have the joy of all of those firsts floating out there, waiting for us.  There will be the day we first meet; there will be a moment when we think, "Oh! Could it be...?"  There will be first intimacies, from shy glances to smoldering ones; from tentative first kisses to tangled sheets.  There will be the first argument, and the make up that comes afterwards; there will be deep talks as well as playful ones.  There will be challenges miraculously navigated, and joys that are hundredfold because shares.  There will be tears in life's challenges, but there will be someone to dry them, too.

We will be so appreciative, because we will not take one second for granted.

There will be a look exchanged that says, "I see you.  I really, really see you."  We will melt.  We will see our beloved, too, and know our fortune.

***

Happy Valentine's Day, dear reader.  Don your red and pink.  Call a single friend and invite them over, call a married friend and congratulate her (and bite her tongue when she complains about her husband's lack of Valentine attentiveness!).  Make paper hearts with a child.  Listen to love songs, even the sad ones.  Eat chocolate, drink red wine.  Go to the beach and look for heart shaped rocks, or go to happy hour with a friend and drink a Valentine's cocktail.

Tomorrow we can breathe a bit easier, with a bit less focus on how we live in a world designed for pairs.  But today, let's just fake it the best we can.

And know this: I see you.  And I appreciate you.  Thank you for sharing your journey with me, and for letting me share mine with you.  Today, as always, I send you my love, and my wish that your burdens will feel light.

xoxo

Monday, February 3, 2014

Visitor

I've been avoiding her for a while, this sister of mine.  I see her around, and when she smiles at me I always look away.  I don't want to catch her eye, and I certainly don't want to talk to her, because frankly she always asks questions that make me squirm. 

She keeps popping up, though, to the point where the sight of her makes my chest give a little anxious squeeze, knowing that I can't avoid her for too long.  Well, she finally caught up with me.

She sat down on the bench next to me and didn't say anything, didn't even look at me, knowing that I'd have to be the one to say the first word this time.

I could not speak, caught off guard and embarrassed.  She is not the kind I'd like to be seen with, not someone I'd like associated with my good name.  She has a tendency to say things to which I have no response, and her social awkwardness is discomfiting.  She's not the prettiest girl, and she's not the kindest, but I fear that she's the smartest, because she always knows what I'm really thinking, and she's so bold she never hesitates to say it out loud and make me feel incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable, hearing the ugliness of my own words out there in front of me.

But she's unavoidable, so this time I didn't run away, or tell her off, or tell her that I didn't want her in my life any more.

I just stared at the ground, feeling her on the bench next to me, her eyes on me, waiting for me to speak.

Her stare broke something in me.  I have done such a good job of avoiding her, but it seemed inevitable that she'd wind up here next to me, sitting on a bench, reading my thoughts.  Now that we were here, I couldn't wind up the strength to tell her off, and she seemed to sense that in me - she wasn't as prickly as I expected her to be, and she didn't tell me off for avoiding her.  She surprised me by reaching over and taking my hand, and her tenderness nearly made me burst into tears from the surprise of how acknowledging her made me feel.

Hello, Loneliness.

She didn't say a word, just slid over and wrapped her arms around me, laying her head on my shoulder.  I stared at the ground, thrown off guard at my own relief: avoiding her has taken a lot of energy, and I don't have to pretend any more that I don't know her.  No more looking away quickly, no more answering questions from well intentioned friends, "Don't you guys know each other?"  We're old friends, she and I, and we'd grown quite close during my marriage.  I thought she'd gone forever when the marriage ended, but such relationships are complicated, and can't be ended with courtroom papers.

And now, here we sit, alone in the crowd.  She joined me on my morning run - ten miles with a PR, accomplishing a time I'd thought impossible, passing the smiling couples running on the same trail, running by the families playing on the beach even in the cold weather.  She sat on a chair in the kitchen, watching me as I prepped for a Superbowl party at my house, silently observing me as I made chili and brownies.  She joined me at the party, sitting next to me on the loveseat, watching the couples I'd invited laugh together, observing the siblings teasing each other at the party.  I saw her take a look at my daughter, an only child, and elbowed her sharply.  "Cut it out.  She's got friends, and you can leave her alone."  My voice was sharp - I have my limits.

She's moved into the guest room, but I know that when I wake up in the night she will have slipped into my bed; the cat will flee from her disturbance, and I will lie there, wide awake and not speaking.  Loneliness will roll over and ignore me to fall asleep on her side of my bed, but I will lie awake, clinging to my edge of the bed, feeling pushed out but with nowhere to go.

She's a part of my life, for better or for worse.  I might as well try to make friends with her.