Monday, February 29, 2016

Permission Granted

Here is an example of how big decisions usually get made in our house:

D:  The carpet shampooer broke.
Me:  Should we buy another one?
D:  We could just replace the floors.
Me:  Makes sense, let's do that.

I know, we sound crazy, but we are seriously frugal people who wait until the absolute last minute to do most costly, time-consuming jobs.  The previous owners of our house had three inside dogs; we have four inside children.  The carpet is beyond disgusting, and this needs to happen,  The shampooer breaking just sealed the deal.

Since we made the decision to have the carpet replaced, it looks even worse because I am not policing it.  Mud on your shoes?  Oh well.  Dropped spaghetti sauce in the floor?  Things happen.  Vacuuming is now not the only thing I do all day.  Want to stop caring about the carpet?  Great, permission granted.

The same thing happened when our dishwasher broke.  For a while I experimented with hand washing, but I'm not sure I was built for that.  Once I knew the repair man was coming, six people pretty much lived with two clean cups and a spoon.  When the poor guy saw our kitchen I said, "I knew you were coming so I just gave up" and he laughed.

It's amazing how much of my day is occupied with keeping a house in order, whether it's cleaning or cooking or making appointments.  It's great work, work that should be done with excellence to the Lord, but it sucks time away from playing action figures with Sam or going on walks with the whole crew.  Taking care of housework is necessary, but it's not everything, and once I gave myself permission to let things go until the carpet was cleaned or the dishwasher working, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I just needed to give myself permission.

The same thing happened last month when I finally gave myself permission to go to the doctor after a year of struggling with vertigo.  I let myself think through what would happen if I got there and the doctor said I was just crazy, and then I made an appointment anyway.  Permission to be called a hypochondriac was granted.

I wasn't called crazy.  After testing I was told I had lost hearing in both hears and that my balance system on the right side was weakened to the point of not working.  The assumption was that I had an inner ear disease, but before that could be decided for sure, I had to go in for an MRI to see if I had a brain tumor.  For the next four days, I just tried hard to fight off a constant low-level panic attack and thanked God that I never, not once, felt abandoned.

My brain is healthy with no tumors, but I do have an inner ear disease called Meniere's disease.  It's rare.  I have bilateral Meniere's meaning it affects both ears, which is even more of an anomaly.  The hearing loss can't be stopped, and it could get really bad or it could get better on its own.  Right now, I sometimes lose hearing in one ear for no obvious reason, then it comes back.  The vertigo and balance issues are tricky, especially with four kids underfoot.  We're working on figuring out how to deal with it.

There's been a lot to process, but the biggest adjustment right now is how low my energy level gets when I've struggled with balance all day.  I'm tired.  I need rest, and if I don't rest I pay dearly the next day in the form of ear ringing or unsteadiness.  I feel like a flake cause I can't plan out further than about ten minutes, though I still try to.  This disease hit me where it hurts: my pride and my independence.  I don't like to appear weak.  I know as humans we all are, and that we should confess that so we can rest in the Lord's strength, but I fail at this on a daily basis.  And I don't want to ask people for help.  I want community and I want to help others, but I do not want to need help.  I don't want to call Dennis while I'm stuck on the floor due to my world spinning and tell him I need him at home.  I don't want to tell the kids I can't chase them around the yard because I am having issues just putting one foot in front of the other and staying vertical.  I don't want to need hearing aids, though I have made my peace with that being a real possibility in the future.  And I don't want to whine, though for the last month I feel like I have done nothing else.

I'm working on giving myself permission, permission to take a nap during the kids' screen time instead of do the laundry; permission to say I can't make plans to be somewhere if me not showing up will negatively affect someone else, because I have no idea from one day to the next what I'll be capable of; permission to explore why after all these years it's so important for me to appear to other people as a self-sustaining island when I know I'm not and don't even want to be; permission to rest and to be and to accept what is happening even as I try to find ways to stop it.

I'm getting better at doing what my body needs, mainly because I have no choice.  I'm not doing great at sorting out and changing some of the big problems this situation has brought to light, but I'm going to keep trying.  Permission granted to fail and try again.

I doubt I am going to be blogging about Meniere's disease.  Like Celiac, dietary changes can help, but Meniere's is rare and every person's situation seems to be a little bit different.  There are commonalities, but there is not one path that this disease seems to take.  It's a bit rogue.  I'm not sure I have that much to offer to the hearing loss/loss of balance conversation.  I mention it now to say that it's okay to give yourself permission: permission to need, permission to rest, permission to have hard conversations, permission to change.  It's okay to give yourself permission to have a dirty floor and a bed with clean clothes heaped on top because you spent the day hanging out with the wee ones.  It's okay to go to coffee with girlfriends even when the day's to-do list is not all checked off.  It's okay to realize that despite growing spiritually, you're still just a tiny bloom with so far to go.  Whatever you need, permission granted.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I Heart Books: The Valentine's Day Edition

This month of reading can best be described as out of control.  All of my books at the library seemed to come available on my holds list at once, and I want to devour each and every one like chocolate.  I have made my way through four of them, and they were so good I had to share now.  Well, three of them were.  There's always that one chocolate in the box that you bite into thinking it's going to taste amazing, but then it just ends up being filled with coconut or some unidentifiable flavor.  It happens.

Yeah, I did not expect everything to land at once.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:  This was a great read for anybody interested in any form of creative living.  After reading the first 30 pages, I wasn't sure it was going to be my thing, but I pressed on because this book is on my BookPage list and many writers I like are obsessed with the Big Magic book and podcast.  I'm glad I continued because Gilbert's insight was freeing in so many ways.  I think her advice to be a "disciplined half-ass" fits me to a T, except I'm not disciplined.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa-: I devoured this book in two days.  Set in Seattle during the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, this story contemplates big issues in the world while simultaneously exploring the personal stories of characters I really cared about.  Yanal's writing style is intoxicating.  This is one of my faves from this month so far.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:  Coates' biography, written in the format of a letter to his son, offers his journey through the world and his understanding of what it means to be black.  He challenges assumptions, points out inconvenient facts, and lends his voice to the conversation about our views and understandings of race.  I read this in one night and will probably read it repeatedly throughout my life.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins:  What to say about this one.  Here's the best I can tell you:  I started reading it then stopped and read two other books, then picked it up again.  For me, that's not a great sign.  There's no doubt that Watkins can write.  My problem is that none of the characters were sympathetic enough for me to feel invested in their fates.  This has been a problem for me with several books I liked but also didn't feel overly connected to.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt fell into that category.  Great writing, good story, but I was not dying to see what happened next.  I just wanted everyone to get their lives together.

I'm still planning on tackling the following this month:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara :  I am about 100 pages in, and it is good.
World War Z by Max Brooks:  This is a D recommendation.  I am finally going to learn all I need to know about the zombie apocalypse.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine:  This is a book of poetry, and I'm going to read a few poems every night.

I'm on Goodreads, so if you haven't found me and I haven't found you, let's find each other!  Goodreads is my Pinterest.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Meditations on Ducks

At almost every place I've been employed, we've had seminars or team building or training, and someone always brings up ducks.  It's that whole thing about how ducks are so cool and calm on top of the water, gliding gracefully, while under the water they are furiously paddling just to stay afloat.  The message always seemed to be this:  be like a duck.  Don't let anyone see you working; make it all look easy.

This message never sat particularly well with me for the following reason:  what if some duck just learning how to swim jumped in and drowned?  I mean, what if the other ducks seriously did not tell this poor creature that life is work, and most things worth having are hard to earn and you have to paddle?  That duck would die or live a life where they thought everything came super easy for everyone else and they just sucked because they had to paddle.  That's duck abuse.  Why not tell the other ducks it's okay, working hard is worth it?  Why not let everyone  know you work hard?  I mean, don't go around whining about it, but share your paddle stories so no one jumps into the water with unrealistic expectations.

So this is my paddle story.  It started many moons ago when I decided I wanted to be a writer and a few people told me that I could because they saw something in my work.  I had a few moderate successes in high school, then when I finished college I started submitting poetry.  It was published. Well, the first six poems were.  Everything I thought I knew was confirmed:  I was talented enough to be a writer.

The next several submission responses landed on me like atom bombs.  All rejections.  Sad enough, but that isn't the saddest part.  The saddest part is that I quit.  Sure I kept writing for over a decade without finishing or submitting a thing.  But I quit trying to be a published writer because I truly believed my talent alone was enough, and when I was proven wrong by those rejection letters, I caved.  In college I studied writers whose work was so profound that the idea of them having to work through rejection never occurred to me.  Paddle, you say?  Well, none of the really good ones look like they paddle.

It's not that I was afraid to work.  I started working when I was 17 and put myself through college as a car hop and a bank teller.  I've been a teacher and a bank trainer and a million things in between, and I truly enjoy facing challenges and figuring out how to solve problems.  It's just that somehow I naively divorced art from work.  If you're an artist, a true artist, I thought you should be able to get by on talent and that working hard wouldn't help you.  You'd just work yourself into a ton of rejections.  Best to quit when it was obvious you didn't have the talent.

Fast forward to now.  I'm 36, which to many might seem a bit old to still be chasing that writing dream I started having as a teen.  However, I am a pro at taking rejection.  I have children who ask for items just so they can wait for me to hand them the item and then throw it back in my face.  Plus, I now understand the concept of work vs. talent.  Very few people are extremely, insanely, genius-level talented at a skill.  There are some, but most successful people combine some moderate talent in a given area to a crap load of work.  That's okay.  They paddle hard, and they keep paddling even after they've been dunked.  They do hard, challenging, scary things.

This realization allowed me to start submitting again last August, resulting in a couple of publications at the end of last year.  That's fun, but let me talk to you about the paddling:  I got rejected a ton.  I have a color coded spread sheet showing my acceptances and rejections, and it almost bleeds the color of rejection.  But this time I kept going.  Why?  I actually like to write.  I like to get published as well, and I'm not going to lie about that.  But when the rejections come in, I'm okay with sitting down and paddling for hours until I revise and rework, create stronger images, strengthen syntax.  I do not expect this life to be a glide across smooth waters.  I've seen the underside of that water and it's furious with the kicks of people who keep going.

A duck, working it.

After two days in January where I received rejection letters back-to-back after my kids had been sick for a week, I started thinking about those ducks.  Those two rejections hitting in such close proximity during a time when I was already exhausted stung.  But I sat down and kept going.  I thought very little about the four pending pieces I had floating in the world because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to move forward if I focused on what it would feel like to get rejected again so soon.  So I worked.  I paddled.  I created.  And a week later, I received an email from Mamalode saying they wanted to publish "The Other Baby".

"Be sure to promote your work!"  they advised, to make sure it was out there where it could be seen.  And I'm happy to do that, excited to do that, but with that I feel comes the responsibility to tell you a secret:  I paddle.  Hard work is a better response than giving up, but it is hard.  I know that if I refuse to risk rejection I will never receive acceptance, and I love what I do enough to want to do it for the sake of the joy it brings.  So don't let the ducks fool you; it's not an easy life, but it's a pretty great one.

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