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Writer’s Block & What The Newtown Tragedy Taught Me About Love

25 Jan

Claude Monet Weeping Willow

Writer’s Block

Type, type, type. Delete, delete, delete. Over and again. Rinse and Repeat. Writer’s block (or rather, idealism) has brought some long silence on this blog. I’m sorry about that silence – well, mostly.

I have a running list of everything I want to write about. These topics deserve to be written about, they need to be honored with that quiet meditation that occurs when we pour out our words, when those thoughts come spilling all out of us like a cup of milk turned over by clumsy hands onto a clean table-cloth – slowly bleeding into the crisp linen.

That’s how I want writing to feel to me, but instead …

She feels like a weeping willow billowing in the wind, back and forth, and back and forth, sad and constant. The leaves ever so gently trace up against my window calling me to come and sit under her branches. And I cannot, because the effort it takes to leave the safety of my home is too much for me.

What will happen when I really listen and when I really share? I’m scared to write out the lessons that I hear my heart speaking to me for in doing so I become responsible to them. And so the weeping willow surrenders to the wind, and I am inside keeping my hands busy and my mind occupied.

I’m too tightly coiled up to let go and write.

When you fly with your guitar it’s a good idea to loosen the strings before getting on the plane. The changes in temperature can cause the wood to flex and if the strings are wound too tight and the air is too cold, the neck can break (from the stress of the coiled strings). Lately, I feel like that guitar at a high, cold altitude, and I need to uncoil my strings.

So here goes:

Newtown Tragedy

I spent a week in utter shock over the Newtown shooting. Finally, one night (after a few days of being immersed in the media of it all) I stayed up till one in the morning sobbing with a fisted and clenched ache in my gut and the taste of rust in my bruised mouth. Peter sat and listened to me describe my anger, my shock, my horror, my anger, and then my anger again.

I described to him one teacher’s story of how she hid in the closet, and gathered all those tiny children to her and told them she loved them, because if they were all going to die so violently she wanted the last thing for those babies to remember was that they were loved. O.MY.GOD.

What a moment of desperate grief I felt when I imagined myself in her shoes, when I imagined my own child(ren) in that closet with her and … then finally I came tumbling off the edge of my anger and allowed grief to come up and out – like a fountain of sadness. After that, somehow a small token of peace came to me.

This heroic woman, facing unfathomable fear, understood the power of love. Scripture speaks of a perfect love which is so encompassing, so ravishing that it quenches every ounce of fear around it – consuming fear with a tidal wave of love.

In that moment of facing unmeasurable fear, that Newtown teacher choose unmeasurable love of even greater proportions. In a moment of suffocating fear, she knew the answer was love, love, love … and she gave that tender love to those children, to our children, and even to me.

Choose Love

I want to choose love instead of fear. I want to do this.

I know I have been choosing fear, but I want to choose love. Love is hard to give and even harder to find, and it seems like fear is so accessible and easy to live in. But this year, as I stand on the horizon of 2013, I hope I have the strength of heart choose love. To choose optimism. To choose gratitude.

To find the quiet, unwavering voice of love even in the lion’s roar of fear.

I know I need to stop what I’m doing and sit for a while under the weeping willow. I know I need to lean my head back and rest it against the strength of that tree and close my eyes and listen to the wind move slowly between her leaves.

I may need to weep, and then weep some more, but then at the end of the weeping, when the tears have washed my soul, perhaps I will see a little more clearly that in the end there is love – and it is enough.

So be it.

Quiet the heart, stop wringing the hands, stand still and see – there is love. And I will choose it. (and even write about it)

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The Walls of My Home

24 Aug

November 2008. Our first family photo outside our home in Denton.

My lap top tells me that it’s 12:17 AM.  Everyone is, thankfully I might add, sleeping.  I’m sitting in my Dad’s recliner in the living room of my parents house.  When I stop typing and listen I hear my ears ringing, thanks to way too many loud music events that I was a part of in my 20s, I hear the bugs sawing their legs in rhythm with the clock ticking, and a few creeks of  the house moaning in the night from the heat of the day.

My daughter is asleep in the room I grew up in. She is sleeping in the same bed I did for my entire life spent in this house.  It makes me sentimental.  Peter put her to bed tonight, like he has most every night for the past four months since Noah’s arrival.  Zoe has turned into a full on Daddy’s girl.  If she wakes in the night she cries for Daddy and not Momma.  Which, I’ll admit, makes my heart zing just a bit.  I’m not available for her as much as I was when I only had her.  Noah, who still nurses every two hours on most days, keeps me really … not busy, but … occupied, my hands are generally filled with his chubby, demanding, but oh-so-loving body.  I have to make a very strong effort to get quality time with Zoe.

Which now is spent on the floor of my parents living room, playing with her brightly colored lego blocks while Noah sits in my lap.  She repeats the phrase, “We need four walls to make a house, Mom.”  Something I said to her the first time we made a lego house together, and now she says it to me every time we play legos.  Four walls, indeed.

We are in Arkansas.  We are in transition, somewhere between almost there and not quite yet.

We packed up our house and moved our belongings into a trailer truck that drove away from our Denton address on Wednesday, August 3, three weeks ago exactly.  We loaded every single last scrap that we own into a truck’s trailer headed for Chicago.  I have no idea how it happened, packing up  – with all my crying, and wandering through old pictures and letters, and the stress of planning it all, and feeding my baby and entertaining my pre-schooler.  If it weren’t for the help of our friends, Marissa, Amanda, Katie, Kristen and Lindy – as well as Marissa’s and Amanda’s husbands we would have never managed to pack up our home.

At the end of our last day in Denton, a dreadfully hot day in Texas, 108 degrees  – too hot for the AC to keep up, Peter and I stood, holding our children in our arms, inside our empty home.  The home that we lived in for almost three years, the home that we brought ourselves to after living in Israel, the home that we brought our tiny newborn children to, the home where we discovered our better selves and shed our worst moments in, this home with its four walls covered in memories, was empty.  Bone bare and thread dry.

We stood there like travel weary, wanderlust(y) hitch hikers on the side of the road waiting for our next ride. Except this side of the road is our home, and our home is an empty shell.  Our future does not fit inside these four walls.  We outgrew our present. I stood there trying not to cry. Sweat pouring down my face, dirt under my nails.  A suitcase by my foot.  Noah perched on my hip. Peter holding my hand and Nutmeg staring at us.  I wasn’t going to do this, I remind myself.  I can’t get emotional.  Not right now.  There isn’t the energy for this much feeling.  I must just keep moving forward. Without. Within. Without.

I’m sentimental.  As you can see.

It’s been the most exhausting season of my soul so far.  Truly.  I’ve just sat here and reread that sentence about ten different times trying to make sure that statement is true, and I’m pretty sure it is.

And now, here we are in Arkansas, waiting for the rest of the story.

Peter leaves for Chicago on Sunday (today is Wednesday) to start grad school.  Zoe, Noah and I will stay in Arkansas with my parents. Peter will temporarily live with friends.  School starts on the 31st of August (his birthday).  Once loan money disburses and Peter finds us a rental unit that’s close enough to the train and big enough for all four of us and a dog, we will make our way to Chicago.  Our reunion will likely be the end of September.

I’m not excited about his leaving.  I remind myself that I’ve been without Peter before. In fact, I did it for two months, when Peter went to Denton and I stayed in Israel.  In those two months, Peter found a job, bought a car, located a home for us and enrolled in school.  I arrived in Denton 26 weeks pregnant on November 4th, 2008 to our tiny, little home with its bare white walls and our mattress on the floor surrounded by boxes filled with our dishes.

Now it seems the story repeats itself, except this time it’s not just me who has to be without Peter, it’s Zoe and Noah too.  I think of how much Zoe is going to miss her Daddy and the same for Peter.  I wonder if she’ll be okay when she wakes up at night and cries for Daddy and it’s me that comes to her. I’m not sure how she’ll manage without him.  What I mean is … I’m not sure how I’ll manage without him.

This is where we are.  I can’t imagine the future right now because I’m treading water.  Focused on the present.

Tonight, Stevie Wonder’s, I Just Called To Say I Love You, started playing on the radio, (the second time today).  I turned up the volume and Peter and I playfully danced together in the middle of the living room.  Zoe saw us, smiled and laughed and came running over.  She hugged my leg and danced with Peter and me while Noah vocalized in the pack-n-play.  I joked to Zoe saying, “This is something Daddy is going to be doing quite a bit of soon. Calling to say I love you.”

While Peter and I dance in the living room of my childhood home, for a tiny second, my mind stops treading water long enough to think about what all of this change has brought us. I smile into Peter’s neck and touch my daughter’s hair and look at my son. If it takes four walls to make a house, then the four of us are the walls to our home – where ever we are.  We make the best house, ever.

May 2011. Our last family photo outside our home in Denton.

In Which We Move to Chicago

6 Jul

Chicago Skyline

I’m not sure if I’m more relieved to have finally made a decision or more scared that we’re moving to Chicago.  But we are.  Moving that is. To Chicago.

Let me tell you how it all went down.

In early March, Southern Methodist University of Dallas (SMU) was the first school to let us know that they had accepted Peter into their two-year MFA program.  Not only that, but they awarded Peter a full academic scholarship, plus an assistantship, a small assistantship, but still worth mentioning.  Bingo.  Grad School can happen without a move.  Let’s jump on this, I said. In total, they awarded Peter over $100,000.  Not bad.  SMU is known for being highly selective and stingy with their awards, so let’s just see this for what it is…the right choice.  Let’s confirm our decision and be done with this – that’s what I felt.

Mind you, I was 30 plus weeks pregnant, desperate for some closure and ready to know what our future looked like, and really excited about the idea that we could stay in Denton and I could stay connected with my work here.

Then we hear from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).  Peter applied to this school knowing that it was a long shot.  Everyone told us that scholarships were few and far between. But seeing as how this was THE program Peter really wished he could land, the third top New Media Program in the Nation, second only to Harvard’s,  and it has a 90% placement rate post graduation, and it is only a two-year program, Peter thought he would give it a shot.  SAIC offers Peter a partial scholarship.  Oh wow. This is getting complicated.

We take SAIC’s offer into serious consideration.  We would need to take out a lot of loans to make this work.  Too many, in fact.  There’s just not enough money available for a family of four and a dog to live in Chicago.  Oh, well, I said…let’s move on.  You can have a successful career wherever you go.

Did I mention that Peter intends to teach at a college level?  New Media is an up and coming art field and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of right now.

Then we hear from University of Houston.  They award Peter a full scholarship into their MFA program.  Woah. Uof H has a strong artistic community, much stronger than Dallas. Maybe we should think about this.

Then the deadline to let SMU know if we were accepting their offer came around.  But we still hadn’t heard from Denver University, University of Texas, or University of Texas at Arlington. What should we do?

Peter asked SMU for an extension, and they agreed.  They gave us another two weeks. Hopefully we would hear from the other schools by then.

We hear from UT, they place Peter on a wait list.  Essentially, if anyone they offered a position to in their New Media MFA program says no thanks, they will then offer the position to Peter. Oh man, wouldn’t it be great to live in Austin again?  Oh wow.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed and let’s pray and hope that someone says no, because being with our community in Austin would be fantastic.  Let’s hope we hear something soon.

And so we waited, and waited.  And waited some more.

On April 11th, we hear from UT.  There is no space for Peter.  We learn that we will not be going to Austin.  I’m sad, but ready to get some closure too. Okay, looks like SMU it is.

But wait, we still haven’t heard from Denver, or University of Texas at Arlington?  How can we make a decision until all the cards are on the table?

Peter talks to me about how much he wishes it could work out for SAIC.  This is ridiculous.  It’s just not possible.  Let’s move on.  Peter lets SAIC know we cannot attend.  They write back saying that they will extend the offer of acceptance and the award for at least a year. If our circumstances or our perspective changes, let them know ASAP.

That’s cool, I guess.

On April, 13th, Noah Luke makes his arrival into our world, and Peter starts to feel more pressure to make the right decision for our future.  Good, I say.  We need to finalize this decision.

So, without hearing from Denver or UTA, Peter tells SMU that he will accept their offer.

AWESOME!  Now let’s pack up our house and move into a bigger place, this two bedroom is too small for us.

We start packing up.  We find an awesome three bedroom in Denton that’s just perfect for us. Peter will take the train to SMU.  Maybe I can start working again once Noah is past all this crazy colic junk.

In the middle of June, two days before we sign our lease, Denver University lets us know that they have awarded Peter a full scholarship into their three year MFA program.

Which means, we could be moving to Denver.  Maybe signing a lease right now is a bad idea.  Sadly, we let the house go.

OY.  You’ve got to be kidding!

Denver was Peter’s second choice.  His first was SAIC.  But they didn’t offer a full scholarship, but Denver is, and they’re giving the option of Peter doing an MA in art History and an MFA in New Media.  Two grad degrees ain’t bad.  But what is their assistantship?

They promise to let us know, administration is a mess, they tell us, which is why the delay in letting us know Peter was accepted in the first place, but they will give us word on the assistantship ASAP.

And so we wait.  Meanwhile University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) let’s us know that Peter was accepted into their program and awarded a full scholarship plus a very sizeable assistantship.

Okay.  Now this is getting confusing.

What do we do?

Since UTA isn’t a very high-ranking school and their New Media program isn’t well-known, and Peter can’t take the train into school, (We are a one car family) we decide to say no to UTA.

But dang it, if we still haven’t heard from Denver.  This is getting stupid.  Let’s just confirm our decision to move to Denver and then we will figure out what their assistanship is once we are there.  I mean it has to be better than SMU’s measly 150 a month, right?

July 1st, Peter writes SAIC to find out if they have any further funding available….

They do.  They offer a 20% increase in award money to Peter plus a work-study program.  They also offer more money for personal loans.

What?  Oh, okay.  Now this changes everything. SAIC is workable now.

Yes, we told SMU that we would attend a while ago.  But SAIC is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  So, SMU is not going to like that we are telling them no thanks after the fact (and I do feel bad about that).

We may have more debt post grad, but Peter has a greater chance of a stronger, better paying career afterwards.  SAIC is to art, as Harvard is to law.  It’s a huge deal.

And when I see how happy it makes Peter, it makes me happy too.

And believe it or not, we still have not heard from Denver.  (you suck, thanks for being such an administrative mess)

I’m scared to move to Chicago.  Seriously.  It’s a big city.  And it’s as cold as it is big. But it’s just for two years, and it’s for the benefit of our whole family.  Going to SAIC gives us a stronger chance of success post grad than any of the other schools.  So, yes, it’s more of a gamble up front, but less of a gamble afterwards.

We have some good friends in the area.  Good friends, who are even now helping us find a place. Good friends who will help us make the transition from Southern living to city life.  We’ll be okay.  In fact, after these last six months, I’m pretty sure we will be fine.

And me, I’m excited to live in a place that doesn’t have the washer and dryer in the dining room.

SAIC starts at the end of August.  We are still in the planning stages of when we will make our arrival.  Which means, I don’t know when we are leaving Denton, but it will likely be the second week of August.

Dear Texas, I love you. I love the friends that you gave me.  I love the experience I’ve had in this amazing place.  Your summers are a beating, but you make up for it with people who are as big-hearted as you are wide.  Thanks for being a place I could call home.

xoxo,

joy.

To Clear Away the Cobwebs

27 Jun

I’ve been running, rather jogging.  Nothing amazing, maybe a mile and a half to two miles a day, at best.  But it’s helping me cope.  It clears away the emotional cobwebs that tend to build up in my mind.  And you know it has to bad in order to get me to run.  Because I HATE it. I would much rather do some other form of activity.  But jogging through the neighborhood is free, get’s me out of the house, and far enough away that I can’t hear Noah crying.  Which thankfully there has been a lot less of recently.

I think we are starting to see the light of day.  I knew things would get easier at that three-month mark with Noah, and it’s clear that Noah is much improved.  Not out of the woods yet, but still a far cry from non-stop screaming for five hours straight every night.  That was just a beating.

Noah’s issues combined with us in the middle of limbo land with which grad program Peter will choose has been enough to cause me to stress eat.  Yep.  I gained weight.  I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight by ten days postpartum, and then at two weeks we started having colic issues with Noah and I coped by comfort eating.  I know, it’s my old friend.  The former me, who weighed 60 pounds more, with all those bad habits likes to remind me in me weakest moments how yummy or rather, soothing food can be. You know, that thought, oh, I deserve this cookie because my son is crying so much.  I  had 18 million of those thoughts.

I could potentially be one of the only women I know who actually can gain weight while breastfeeding.  Well, two weeks ago, I put my big girl pants on and started jogging, in 102 degree Texas heat no less.  I feel like a beast afterwards, so sweaty and nasty.  But, it’s starting to pay off… I’m five pounds away from pre-pregnancy weight….again.  Sigh.

I am the type of person who, in order to maintain my weight-loss, which I have for almost 7 years, I have to step on the scale every day. I know when I don’t want to do that, step on the scale, that there’s a reason, because I haven’t been exercising regularly and I haven’t been mindful of what I’m fueling my body with.  So for a while, during the most stressful days with Noah, and money and life, I stopped stepping on the scale, because I knew…I was gaining weight, and I didn’t want the reminder.  It is truly my only preventative for undisciplined habits.

1998, near my heaviest.

That said, I’m still in a battle to love myself and I really mean LOVE me, whether or not I’m 10 pounds over my ideal weight or 3 pounds, or even at my ideal weight.  And I think when you have accomplished a dramatic weight-loss you never truly feel like, okay, we’re good, we can relax now.  You never really can get that fat girl picture out of your head, even when you have hit your goal weight or size.  At least for me, that’s the truth, at my weakest moments, I still feel like the girl who was wearing a size 22 jean.  Yeah, it’s true, I was once wearing a size 22.  Even now, there is still a struggle to think, I would be happier/prettier/more satisfied with my body if I was in a size 4 jean.  A size 8/10 pant is my normal size when I’m exercising daily and eating well (notice I didn’t say dieting).  I feel pretty content with myself at that stage.

Will I ever be thin? Hear me out, you know what I mean by “thin,” because for some of us, the idea of wearing a size 8 or 10 is thin.  Thin meaning waif-ish. NO. I won’t ever be a waif, that’s just not my body type. (I know when I was a size 22 I would just ROLL my eyes at women who were in a size 12 complaining about needing to lose weight – IN FRONT OF ME.) I’m not sure if I will ever slip on a pair of size 4 pants – I don’t know if I have EVER worn a size 4.  I’ve always been thick, or curvy is a nicer description, I guess. Whatever.  It’s semantics anyway.  I doubt that a number on a scale, or a size on a tag will ever make me feel like I’ve arrived. And here’s why, because that was not why I started my weight-loss journey.  I get annoyed with myself when I start to think that way.  It’s not healthy, emotionally speaking, for me to get too involved with a number as a goal.

In 2007, working out 2 hours a day with a trainer

I started my weight-loss journey, back in 2004, for health reasons.  I knew I was racking up unseen medical bills later in life if I didn’t start to do something about my health right then.  It was a desire to climb stairs and not feel winded, to run a mile without a blink.  It was a desire to know that in my 50’s I could hike and go out and enjoy life, without being in pain.  It was a desire to be free from baggage – the kind on the inside too.  Sometimes the only way to get to the root of an emotional issue is to start to peel away the physical habits of one.  For me, emotional healing came through physical health.  I worked through a lot of my junk in the gym.  And that is why I need to be running daily lately.  The comfort eating comes along for me when life is difficult and stressful.  The best way for me to cope with stress is exercise (I know this is revolutionary, isn’t it).  It keeps me riding the waves of life, rather than being overwhelmed by it all. Plus, I feel more vibrant inside and out when I’m staying healthy.  Exercise is the filter for my negative thoughts.  I sweat ’em all out, so to speak and then I don’t feel the urge to comfort eat.

Back to the point, I get in a rut as soon as I start to focus more on a number and less on my health, I lose my momentum and my love of who I am, but yet, stepping on the scale every day is what keeps me more focused on my health.  The scale isn’t about a right number, it’s about staying on target for being healthy.

What I know is this, the point is, for me, I’m happiest with myself not when I can put on a pair of size 8 pants from Old Navy, but I’m happiest with myself when I can run a mile and know that I have 2 more in front of me and not continually think about how bad I want to stop.  I’m happiest with myself when I can push my body harder and faster than before and not feel defeated.  I’m happiest with myself when the idea of hiking up the side of an honest to goodness mountain doesn’t scare me, but rather, excites me.

With every intention to encourage self-love, here is what I like about myself (no matter what size I am):  I like my hands, I think my fingers are long and pretty.  I like my feet,  they match my hands.  I like my jaw line, my neck and collar-bone.  I like the overall shape of my body.  I like my hair. I like my mouth and I like my cheek bones.  I like my small shoulders. I like my hip to waist ratio. I like my eyelashes. I like my freckles.

I like my brain.

So what do you like about yourself? It’s harder than you think, but it is good to do it.

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