I’ve got some general life updates to share for the month of August:
- I wrote (and self-published!) a book,
- I sent Chris a nice email,
- I returned to school,
- I bought a weird lamp,
- I watched a video about dealing with anger,
- I was presented with two very mysterious vials…
- and I woke up with an interesting phrase lingering on my mind.
First… the book!
Earlier this year, I decided to take a break from the blog (for a few reasons, but mostly one; I had deeply offended one of my closest friends with a comment I’d made on religion, and I hated myself for it). As you can see, I’m clearly blogging again, but I’m now doing so more… thoughtfully.
And during my quiet months of non-blogging, I had to find another avenue for writing, so I finally did the damn thing: I wrote a book — an entire book — from start to finish. The beginning and end were both constructed here in Alabama while a large chunk in the middle was drafted while I was adventuring out in Colorado.
The idea for the book wasn’t new.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, but just over seven years ago, I broke up with my long-distance boyfriend in the late afternoon. That same evening, I curled up in my twin-sized bed and cradled a phone to my ear in Florida while a boy up in Alabama, who I would marry two months later, told me the short tale of a charismatic fox who happened upon a timid rabbit in the forest and quickly became her very best friend.
The story was two, maybe three minutes long, but it comforted (and heavily impacted) me that evening.
Seven years later (and two years after separating from the fox), I flipped my laptop open on a cool January morning, sipped on a latte at the Red Cat on 2nd Avenue South, and wrote the first sentence of the story. I named and developed these shadow characters and then set out on finishing the tale — speaking on love and loss, touching on religion and equality, pumping humor and anger and inquisitiveness into the characters and then leading them through the mundane as well as the magical.
These two friends — Jinx the Rabbit and Caldwell the Fox — are wonderful, lovable characters, and in the novel, I pop in from time to time, narrating their grand adventure into the Magic City where Jinx discovers herself and falls ears-over-heels in love with the big and beautiful world around her.
I won’t insert any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that writing this story helped me process the end of the closest relationship I’ve ever shared with a person. I believe that it helped heal me more than a thousand hours of therapy possibly could have. Journaling and blogging have helped a GREAT deal, but writing my heartache into a story was a totally different experience; I got to fall in love with these characters and then laugh and cry and grow with them. As I traveled and moved with them, I had to experience love and loss all over again, and while it hurt like hell, it also created a greater sense of empathy within me… empathy for the fox (him), for the rabbit (myself), and for all of us. We all hurt sometimes, and some of us hurt a whole lot for a really long time. And that’s okay; we all hurt and heal in different ways and at varying paces. But the big question is, where, what, or who is the consolation? Well, you’ll have to read the book for that. 🙂
And while writing the story was fun, it was also (as you’ve probably gathered) emotionally exhausting, so I totally thought that WRITING and REVISING (x300) the book would be the hard part of the “process.”
Next up was hours of borrrrrring research: how to copyright; how to get an ISBN; how to self-publish; who to self-publish with; how much self-publishing costs; how to format the interior of your novel; how to make a cover; who to contact to do all of this shit for you; how much it will cost to have someone else do all of this shit for you; revisiting how to do all of the shit you can’t afford to have other people do; how to raise funds for a project; where and how to distribute your book; whether or not a jacket is necessary; whether matte or glossy covers are better; how to calculate the correct width of a spine; how to alter page margins; what is page bleed; how to select the appropriate book size; how to convert pdfs to jpegs; how to safely convert pdfs to jpegs; is resize4free legit; does converting a pdf to a jpeg compromise DPI; what is DPI; are page numbers required in a book because Google docs is fucking difficult to work with and inserting them makes everything, including you, go crazy; why does Google docs keep losing my embedded sketches; why is Google docs so fucking stupid; how to get your book in libraries, bookstores, schools and etc.; AND ETC.
I’ll spare you all of the mind-numbing details, but after hundreds of hours of true devotion to this endeavor, it’s over — the project has finally ended, and it has ended successfully. Google “Jinx the Rabbit” on Amazon and my book pops up. My book. That I wrote and then published. That my best friend drew twenty-seven whimsical and wonderful sketches for (check out his website here). Holy crap! It’s still amazing. I’m still amazed.
If you’re a fellow writer who’s considering self-publishing, please feel free to reach out… I’d be happy to share every mind-numbing and detailed thing I’ve learned with you. Might save you one OR FORTY-FIVE hours.
In August, I also sent Chris (the ex-husband slash fox) what I would call a “nice” email… nice because instead of continuing to berate him for not wanting to be my friend anymore (as my emails usually read), I apologized to him for being a horrible friend back when we were divorcing by shutting myself off from him emotionally. I forget sometimes that I was the one who hurt him first… that I essentially (emotionally) cheated on him and put him in a terribly vulnerable position… and that any sane person wouldn’t want to be friends with the person who betrayed them. And that person was, sadly, me. I never thought myself capable of causing such pain. It’s humbling to admit to, disheartening to realize, and I think that it’s extremely important that I remember it.
I’ll always love Christopher, and I know that he knows that. I understand now (in a way that I didn’t really get before) how futile it is to wish things were different and to wish people back into your world… because once they’ve become a ghost to you, try as you might, you just won’t be able to find them. You can’t see them, and they aren’t talking to you, so you can’t hear them, either.
So stop wasting your breath speaking to empty parking lots. Quit straining your eyes, staring after shadows. Just get on your bike — feel the cool wind patting your shoulders and tickling your hair, and go find a warm, safe place to settle down for the night.
Present day, I’m just striving to become a better person because of us. At ARC Stories last week, the mother of an addict stood on the stage, her voice trembling as she shared how much she missed her son. I had to really steel myself against her words to keep my tears at bay.
“So what do I do, then? Since I can’t talk to him, can’t see him, can’t hold him? This is what I do: I hug my daughters tighter. I squeeze my husband’s hand when we go on walks together in the evening. We look at the trees. I write a story, bake a cake, make a wish… anything to reclaim my love for him.”
On a brighter note, on 8/28, I returned to school! I am a STUDENT! I was sharing this happy news with a co-worker three days ago when she asked: “I’m curious — what stirred you to do this? To go back?”
“Well,” I responded, “Chris and I got our degrees together a few years ago and then took a ‘sanity break’ to rest, play in a band, and gather our bearings… after he and I separated, I took a few more years to heal emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I’m in a healthy place now — one where I’m ready to further develop myself academically.” I smiled. It was nice to say it (and hear it) out loud, and it was really nice to know, in my heart of hearts, that what I was saying was actually true.
I’m majoring in Spanish (which is, to me, very meaningful) and minoring in creative writing. This particular semester (the start of my JUNIOR year!), I’ve decided to proceed cautiously and “take it slow” by registering for just two classes: one online, one in-person. I’m just one week in to this “full-time worker/part-time student” life and I’m already sleeping better at night. It feels good to set goals for yourself and then run, or walk, or inch towards them. Progress; it’s called progress, and it feels good to progress. I heard a soul-stirring quote recently that’s relevant to what we’re talking about right now: “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.”
I am a little under the weather today because of the inherent stress emanating from all of these exciting but intimidating changes, but I’m glad for them; I’m grateful for the opportunity to educate myself, and I’m very happy to be heading in this thrilling and fulfilling direction.
I love visiting thrift shops and perusing all kinds of wares within them: vintage clothes, old furniture, tacky paintings and interesting little pieces.
Two weeks ago, I visited a local secondhand store with the intention of finding a raggedy old dress or a pair of high-waisted shorts to wear that weekend — I found the latter (and I’m still trying to figure out when, exactly, I’ll be able to fit into them), and I also nearly ran into an absolutely TERRIFIC lamp.
It looked ancient, and mystical, and it was full of intrigue — AND it was only ten bucks!
I awkwardly picked the heavy thing up with both hands (I’m guessing that it’s made of iron?) and then ran into one of my favorite members (from the credit union I work at); he was shopping with his twin girls.
“Check this out!” I said, indicating the lamp. “Cool, huh?” I smiled, surveying it proudly.
He tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips thoughtfully as he considered the piece. “Maybe if you… paint it… clean it up a little…”
Then, during checkout, I couldn’t help but gush about it again. “Oh, what a steal! Isn’t this lamp just magical-looking?” I exclaimed to the cashier. She eyed it with disinterest.
Ehhhh, whatever. Don’t YOU think it looks magical?
There’s a person in my life who has, on and off over the course of the last year, made me feel sad. I don’t know if it was their deliberate intention to hurt my feelings and put me down, but I suspected that it was, so their negative comments and mean jokes have, slowly, eroded my sense of peace. I began feeling a sense of dread — not JUST when I was in their presence, but before and afterwards; replaying our conversations at night; recalling their tone of voice and facial expressions while driving; trying to guess at their intentions while cooking or in the shower. It was a massive disruption in my otherwise relatively peaceful life, and I hated it. Anger, pain, and sadness do that, don’t they? They insidiously ooze into all of our open spaces and soil everything.
So I watched a video by Thich Nhat Hanh (a cute, old Buddhist guy) on how to deal with anger, and his advice (which I took with, as with everything else, a grain of salt) was honestly helpful. In a nutshell, he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):
Do you really want to REMOVE your anger? Is it something that started externally, outside of you, and then found its way in, or is it actually something that originated within you?
Considering the fact that anger develops internally, it’s not so much a matter of removing it as of processing it, and the best way of processing anger isn’t to dwell on the feeling of anger itself but to understand why you’re angry… and, in many situations, why someone else has made you angry.
Have they said something unkind? Have they physically hurt you? Know that, when someone does these awful things to us, it is because they are suffering. They suffer, and suffering makes them angry, and they think that, by making YOU suffer, they will suffer less.
So when someone hurts you, don’t cause them to suffer more by retaliating. Instead, say: Friend, I know that you suffer. I will not add to your suffering. I am breathing in and out, and I wish you peace.
I kept this advice in the forefront of my mind for the next few days — breathe in and out; don’t take the unkindness of others personally; be compassionate; keep breathing; keep being compassionate; imagine the meanie as a silly rabbit; keep not taking it personally — but I reached a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. For the first time ever, I stood up to this difficult person on an afternoon when they’d made another rude and antagonizing remark, and I simply said: “You don’t HAVE to make fun of me.”
Standing up for myself in this small way didn’t alleviate my sense of unease, however, because I knew that — unaddressed — these negative interactions wouldn’t cease or improve. So I bravely decided to request a private phone call with the person.
I shot them a brief text message: “After work, if you have a few minutes, will you please call me? If not, no problem.”
And they called; I had changed into shorts, a tank top, and flip flops and was walking through my neighborhood as we spoke.
I admitted to the person that they’d hurt my feelings and that I felt like they didn’t like me. “I can’t figure out if you really don’t like me or if I’m just being sensitive and FEEL like you don’t like me. I don’t know if I’ve said something that’s hurt you, or made you feel insecure — I just sense this negative energy every time we interact with each other and I want to understand why it’s there.”
They answered very kindly and candidly, and guess what? We were able to clear the air. Imagine that — some honest communication demystifying and burning to ashes months of frustration, hurt feelings, and sensitivity. Also imagine this: I could have spared myself the anguish of enduring said frustration and hurt feelings if I had just said on day one: “My feelings are hurt. Can we please talk openly… try to figure out what’s going on?”
So here’s my advice: Enjoy your EXTREMELY SHORT life. Don’t waste it away feeling sick to your stomach or inferior or worrying about stupid shit. Take time now (not later) to process your anger, your sadness, and your insecurities; get down to the sensitive root of them all and then ruthlessly pluck these poisonous weeds out of the ground. And then, plant something beautiful there, in their place.
It’s time to talk about the vials, isn’t it?
I was at work one morning about two weeks ago when a co-worker (and friend) emailed me: “I’ve got something for you, if you’d like to have it… swing by the department when you can.”
Ooooooh, a surprise! I was delighted. “AWESOMEEEEE! I’ll stop by in about twenty minutes!”
I wrapped up what I was doing and then skipped her way.
Once I was standing in front of her, this friend presented two vials. Intrigued, I waited for her to explain the nature of them.
“So — have you ever tried essential oils?” she asked.
“Oh, YES!” I exclaimed, eager for her to continue. “I used peppermint oil a while back to mitigate a migraine.”
“Okay,” she nodded. “Well, I’ve read about your ups and downs and wanted to see if you would be interested in having one of these…” and here, she loosened the caps on the vials. “This one is called peace,” she said, handing it to me so that I could catch a whiff of its scent, “and this one is named happiness,” she continued, placing the other vial in my hand. “I concocted them at home.”
“Wow,” I exhaled. “This feels so monumental — choosing between peace and happiness!” I laughed. But I’d known my answer before sniffing either vial. “I would love to have peace. Thank you so much for thinking of me!”
She nodded affirmatively. “Sounds good! That one has a lot of sage in it.”
“Oooooooh, sage! How magical…”
I’ve been rubbing it onto my wrists and neck (and even my cool new scarf!) all week, and I love the way it smells — but beyond the pleasant, distinctly herbal scent of it, I love the idea of arming myself with peace each morning. I think that being at peace with yourself and the world — the wonderfulness and awfulness and terrifying uncertainty of it — is the best feeling possible. I really do. And after you’ve experienced it — that indescribable sensation of peace — you know that you can always return to it. How empowering.
The best news is that you can bring peace with you anywhere — wherever you go, wherever you are; in a crowd, in an embrace, or when you’re all by yourself. It can follow you all through life — dancing in your heart, swelling with your lungs, and swimming through your veins. It’s the nicest, and chillest, and warmest and lightest companion ever.
I woke up feeling inexplicably sad three days ago. I couldn’t remember what I’d just been dreaming about, but the last sentence I’d uttered IN my dream was still vibrating on my lips: “Should I write the name down and take a picture so you won’t forget?”