A few days past 2016, but some of my favorite shots from a year that kept me forcing to find the bright spots in the middle of struggle.
A few days past 2016, but some of my favorite shots from a year that kept me forcing to find the bright spots in the middle of struggle.
At this moment in time, I am content. Not this day, not this hour. This moment at 8:42 am. The sun is streaming in from the floor-ceiling window with a gentle breeze causing my fly-away hairs to move. Despite the threats of terrible weather predicted all week, rain is nowhere to be found.
Sitting at my laptop with a large mocha iced latte beside me, I feel more at peace than I have in the last month. Maybe this sense of calmness will only last for the next few minutes. But being able to be in the moment, soaking in the slow introduction of fall and the realization that I infact made way through a rocky month of August, is a gift from the universe I am embracing with open arms.
Another reason I’m grateful for this moment in time is that my body finally feels like my own again. It only takes a short bit of time to know me until it becomes apparent that part of my sparkling personality involves a splash of hypochondria. Okay maybe a few liters or a gallon.
The night before making my First Holy Communion in the 2nd grade, I kept my parents up throughout the evening because I was positive that chicken poxs were going to appear and prevent me from finally getting to eat Jesus.
In college when my hands would begin to tremble, I had convinced myself that it was an early onset of Parkinson’s disease or ALS – at age 20. I totally ignored the fact that I was living off iced coffees and pop tarts, forgetting to eat several times a day while working on the student paper and juggling 20 credits.
And I’ve lost track on how many times I have been convinced that my headaches were a warning signs of a brain tumor or impending aneurysm. Forget the fact that I was dehydrated/not wearing the glasses/forgot to take my medicine/was over tired.
So when my stomach began to feel increasingly bloated early last month with cramps, my anxiety began to skyrocket. My doctor listened to me as I rattled off potential diagnoses, which I then took a breath and asked her if I had ovarian cancer. Why ovarian cancer? Because I read the preventive pamphlet in the waiting room lobby and took it as a premonition.
This was all before she had a chance to exam me, order or any tests, or get out any words besides ‘Hi there, so what brings you in today,’.
From being my primary doctor for over a year now, she smiled and knew that this was typical for me. After poking, prodding, a pelvic ultrasound and a blood test, I was given a clean bill of health with the caveat of keeping an eye on the pain as it could be an early sign of gallstones.
Basically the reason I was so uncomfortable was that I was full of shit. Literally. Of course knowing it was nothing more than a back up, my worry subsided. Ha….wishful thinking!
The next phase of my hypochondria was figuring out why I had this sudden back up in my plumbing. Of course, working in healthcare marketing does not help a hypochondriac manage fears. My job actually fuels my fears similar to the pumping a child with pixie sticks- it can get ugly fast. Part of my work involves capturing patient stories, learning about their sudden onset of illness that caused them to almost lose their lives out of the blue. These diseases and diagnoses swirl through my mind, while I google despite being banned from it from both my primary doctor and my therapist, Dr. R. In the midst of this anxiety all while managing to work full time, I embarked on operation get my shit moving again.
Things I learned during this unpleasant tasting discovery:
While this ordeal was enough of a shit storm (pun totally intended) to derail a positive frame of mind, I also was alone in my apartment for 2 weeks while my roommate was traveling, and because of scheduling issues, I was unable to go to my weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R for 3 weeks.
Needless to say that this was the perfect setup for a spiral of self pity, worse case scenario planning, and a not-so-compassionate inner dialogue.
But the last week of August brought both cool weather to Philadelphia, and much needed relief to multiple areas of my life. My body finally has working plumbing again, meaning my pants and shirts finally fit again.
Rather than stressing about what my body is plotting against me, my energy can now be redirected to doing productive things like cooking dinner, writing and not being a miserable toad.
I finally went back to therapy, which was like an hour massage for the psyche. And after two weeks, my roommate is in route home from abroad. As much as I love Annie the cat as a roommate, she is not the best person to watch Jeopardy with after work.
Now it is 9:22 am and I am still enjoying the moment of the coffee shop calmness. And that I am breathing. Because the thing that continued to help me move through the hot mess of August was the phrase ‘this too shall pass’.
Every moment is fleeting. The amazing moments of life surrounded by family members and friends. The terrible situations of grief and heartache that in the moment feel eternal. But no matter how joyus, how soul crushing a moment is, it shall pass.
When entering your mid-twenties, changes will begin happening throughout your social circle at a rapid-fire pace. Careers will be established, moving trucks will be packed to set forth across the country, and friends will begin to take new last names.
There will be many engagement dinners and wedding receptions where you will be in attendance as just the date of their friend, or because of social courtesy for a co-worker. But then there be the weddings that involve your childhood friends, the group of women who continue to share a deep friendship after surviving puberty.
When the group of women who have known each other since elementary school meet for a weekend brunch, the world may see you as mid-twentysomethings who lead lives full of successful careers, motherhood, and marriage. But to each other a time warp still is in place when you reunite no matter how many weeks or months pass by.
In their faces, you see the eyes of a 16-year-old brimming with tears over her first heartache. You hear the uninhibited giggle of a 15-year-old sharing the first time she went to 3rd base during a sleepover.
The voice will always echo the days of when you would drive around in your mother’s car blasting My Chemical Romance, feeling the freedom of a driver’s license that can only be felt at 17-years-old. Your arms have wrapped around each other countless times, providing comfort for every situation from drinking too much at a college party at 20-years-old or sitting numbly trying to process the life threatening illness of a parent too young to be so sick in present day.
And sometimes your group will be in the midst of multiple weddings a month apart, while another is preparing for the birth of her first child several months prior to the nuptials. This means two bridal showers, two bachelorette parties, two rehearsal dinners, two ceremonies, a baby shower, and a christening. Oh – and having to change the last name of two of your two oldest friends in your cell phone for the first time ever.
In the midst of experiencing these life-changing events, you are tasked with coordinating schedules and to-do lists, which seemed harder to do than managing arrivals at Grand Central Station during rush hour. In the mix was dealing with future sister-in-laws and mother in laws that were new to your friends’ lives, but now would be bonded to their future in a more intimate way than we would be.While browsing the home good sections of Macy’s to find the perfect wedding gift in the registry, there may be moments of self-reflection involved. Moments of ‘when me’, that questioned if there will ever be a time in your life where the love of your life will be holding your hand while you wield the registry gun for our own wedding registry? Will there ever be a man that takes your breath away to the point where you are willing to commit your life to being his wife?
But those moments of self-pity and wonder about the future goes away the minute you walk into the room of festivities. Your heart will swell when she steps out from the dressing room of the bridal store, making the choice of her wedding dress.
And when helping her lace up the back of her wedding dress, a sense of deja vu will happen because not so long ago you were doing the same thing while getting ready for the junior prom. When finally sitting down after spending hours setting up for her bridal shower, watching your best friend open each bridal shower gift with glee makes every paper cut from hanging decorations worth it.
The twinkle in her eyes as she unwraps food processors and throw pillows is lit up by all of her future plans to create a home with her future husband. Then on the wedding day, you’re standing up at the altar, waiting, as the doors swing open for her to make the grand entrance. Out of the corner of your eye is her soon-to-be-husband, who was once just a guy your best friend called you about gushing after a first date. He is now just part of your friend group as she is and has already been present for his fair share of best friend moments.
As she walks down the aisle, the past 15 years scroll through your mind at warp speed.
There is the girl that walked the blocks of your neighborhood after school with knee socks sliding down, and a Jansport backpack tied around her back. Who provided comforted when your crush ended up being a jerk, while rinsing out your retainers in the bathroom
She is the one you cried hysterically with after saying goodbye the night before you both left for college, but the same one who is still able to provide a feeling of home when caught between two worlds. She is the one who will drink with you at the bar without judging when your life is so far from what you imagined post college graduation. And now she is a woman who is about to become a someone’s one, a matriarch of her own family.
Then after the post-ceremony group photos are finished and party-bus cocktails are ingested, you will stand proud to witness the first dance of the newly minted Mr. & Mrs. Her eyes are brighter than you ever have seen them before. Although her steps and twirls seem effortless while she’s dancing with her husband, you know it has been a hell of a journey for her. And that her first dance is inspirational. This is her victory dance, her reward for never losing her hope for true love.
Being able to be part of the process of weddings of these girls has given you lessons that will stick with you if there is ever day for it to be your turn to be the bride. But out of all the takeaways from standing beside them on their wedding, one is those important and meaning. When watching your best friends get married, it will take your breath away from how much love and pride swells inside your heart for them.
Being an adult with unavoidable responsibilities, the majority of summertime is spent at work with occasional PTO sprinkled throughout the season. Whenever I pass a group of children riding their bicycles home from the local pool while driving home from work, pangs of nostalgia hit me harder than a Buzzfeed article recapping the best pop songs of summer 1999.
My childhood summers look drastically different compared to what today’s children will one day fondly reflect on when they reach the age to be plagued by nostalgia. While I am one of those widely frowned upon millennial who could operate a computer before being able to double knot her shoelaces, being born in May of 1989 allowed me to enjoy an entire decade of life without being tethered to mobile and social technology.
My twin-home backyard, only 10 feet by 10 feet, was an incubator of my creativity. My Fisher-Price red and yellow ‘Super Sandbox’ served as a sanctuary where I sat for hours with plastic buckets and old pasta strainers making up stories. After brushing off the grains of sand that could always be felt for hours afterwards, I would close the foldable sides of the sandbox to convert the lid into a personal stage where I belted out The Little Mermaid and Annie songs until my parents told me to give our neighbors a reprieve from live entertainment.
When the heat became too much, my Little Tykes Paddling Pool (identical to the one in my Fisher Price Doll House), was set up ready to provide sweet relief with ice cold hose water. Throughout the summer, my mother repurposed empty ketchup bottles and over worn plastic cups as pool toys, along with the specially designated pool Barbie dolls.
Other days, after a sufficient amount of soapy, bubble mix had drenched my clothes and coated my fingers while trying to fish out the thin, not-quite-tall-enough wand inside of the bottle, it was time to rinse off in the sprinkler, creating a whole new level of fun. Laying my belly on the wet grass, I would get eye level to the sprinkler then scream with delight as the water pressure tickled my freckle-kissed skin. I alternated between awkwardly jumping through the shooting water feeling like a ballerina and catching the shooting water in my mouth. After sunset, I spent that hour before bedtime collecting lighting bugs in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked through the lid. Catching the flickering lights was often a challenge, often inducing laughter brought from the tickling sensation of the fluttering bugs wiggling inside my cupped hands.
When I was old enough to cross the street without adult supervision, a good portion of summer days and nights were spent in taking part in constant activity with other kids on my block. It was during that time I learned about hand games and card games. I learned the pain that is inflicted when flinching prematurely during a game of slapises, and how much it hurt to be the table during the arm wrestling portion of a fierce game of Down By the Banks.
The soles of our flip flops were worn out from running during intense games of Freedom, and the only worry during a game of Red Rover was if our arm chain was strong enough as the biggest kid from the other team came charging forward. Head on collisions with each other to the point of needing ice packs were common while scrambling to catch a ball during a fierce game of Suey (or depending on your neighborhood, Wall Ball).
Every one of us has childhood summer memories that will be cherished long after growth spurts and puberty. And each generation can argue why their era was different and more preferred. Will the children of today one day reminisce about how summer of 2016 was spent searching for super imposed cartoons around their neighborhood while playing Pokemon Go?
Perhaps my fellow millennials, especially those born around 1987-1992, and I experienced the gift of a unique hybrid summertime consisting of old-fashion fun along with technology available at the end of the 21st century. Our childhood summers felt endless with days blurring together because days were filled with every kind of activity imaginable. Outdoor freedom of hopping on bicycles without worrying about texting our parents to check in once arriving at our destination.
The ability to occasionally over-indulge on video games and cartoons, eventually boring ourselves to find another activity rather than having to be policed by screen time concerns. For a brief period in time in a pre-9/11 and texting world but post-dial up households and Gameboy systems, my generation was made of the children that straddle this brief time, truly providing the best of both worlds.
Not that this breaking news for anyone who happens to be plugged into any type of media these days.
Every few weeks the profile photos of my Facebook friends change to pay tribute to the latest victims of devastation. Outcries for justice, law reform and just civilized humanity continues to trickle into all walks of life.
As I’ve shared before, acts of terrorism and public shooting sprees have always been part of my life as I am the generation that was in preschool during the Oklahoma City bombing, elementary school during Columbine High and junior high during 9/11. But as a 27 year old living in a major US city, recent weeks watching the evening news as left me nauseous.
A man (if you can call him that) has become a presidential nominee because of support behind his asinine ideal of building a freaking wall to shut refugees out of our country, in addition to calling for a registry of an entire population based on religion. Apparently he and those who support him are totally oblivious of what happened during World War II.
Innocent young men are being tasered, beaten, assaulted and shot to death by those who are supposed to be charged with protecting our freedom through ensuring safety because of the color of their skin.
Police officers who drastically differ from their disgraceful rouge colleagues now face increased fear for their lives while enduring open hatred aimed towards them, serving as the scapegoat for the sins of dirty cops. Memorials around blood stained sidewalks are the new norm serving as a reminder of the fate of so many who made the decision to leave their house at the same time a mentally unstable, terrorist acted on plans of destruction.
With the heaviness of the news being almost panic-attack inducing, I decided to take a break from the evening news. And what better way to break from reality for a brief moment is to watch the complete opposite? This past week while eating dinner, my television has kept me entertaining with the hijinks of We Bare Bears.
Incase you don’t have any kids or haven’t made a recent break from reality, the 30 minute cartoon on Cartoon Network is about three adopted brothers who are fond of the internet, eating and scheming.
As much as the word lol is written in my daily text messaging, nothing has made me actually laugh out loud like watching this show- so much so Annie Cat was quite startled (we need to work on her sense of humor).
In case you’re wondering, my favorite character is Ice Bear because of my soft spot for polar bears (stemming from the Coca Cola Christmas Bears), and how he refers to himself in third person. Also, he sleeps in the refrigerator and for most of my childhood I tried to come up with a workable way to figure out how to sleep in one without suffocating. Spoiler alert- the puzzle was never solved.
During the 30s and 40s movies, especially cartoons, were massively popular because of their cheap ability to allow people to escape war and poverty plaguing the world. And while the movie theater has become a site of mass murders, the concept of becoming lost in a clear-cut world for a bit of time still remains therapeutic almost a century later.
As an active adult who is plugged into to social media and the real world, a full escape from reality would never happen. Besides, in order to be part of the solution there cannot be retreating and avoidance. However for a brief hour each day while decompressing after work and everyday human-being stressors of the 21st century, We Bare Bears is unexpected soul food.
Somehow it’s July 5th and my desk calendar is still on April. This pretty much sums up my frame of mind while trying to figure out what the hell has been going on over the past few months. Winter felt as if it was going to be around forever and now Philadelphia is in the middle of a heat wave.
In between the madness of starting spring by moving into a new apartment, then trying to juggle filming for my freelance project on top of a full time job, capped off by the abrupt hospice/death of my grandmother at the end of the season, summer kind of just appeared.
Honestly, there hasn’t been any exciting plans so far besides the Weezer concert I’m attending tonight (my first concert in three years) and writing. Actually, the main priority for summer 2016 is getting the first draft of my book completed by the end of season. While I’ve been dabbling with writing the book for over a year and half now, over the past two months my commitment to seeing it through with a deadline is has materialized.
Maybe it is because I am now closer to 30 than ever before, or that as a writer who has been fortunate enough to be published in a variety of places, there is something inside me that is craving to dive deeper into my storytelling ability. And the fact that I was at Barnes and Nobles the a few months ago and became unexplainably furious to see that Snookie had a book featured in the New York Times Best Sellers section, and I did not.
Despite my silly notion that my brain should be able to write and create quality content at least 17 hours each day, it cannot. Between growing in my abilities as the Digital Content Program Specialist at work, which has been exciting and rewarding, while working on my first (and highest paying) video project as a side hustle- writing for my book has been increasingly hard to manage.
But with the filming complete for the side hustle video (cannot wait to share it on here when it is live), my free time outside of the 9-5 has been redirected to sitting down with my Google Doc and typing. Some days my hands cannot keep up with the thoughts and emotions tumbling out of my head and it is a struggle to get it all down on paper.
Other days it is a struggle to lift up my fingers to write a complete sentence that has an ounce of redeemable quality. But recently, I have made myself slodge through the heaviness of my thoughts and the clumsiness of my fingers to get through the other side of writer’s block. At the moment, my manuscript has 60,000 words that will be become my first book- which is even bizarre to type.
In order to continue to gain momentum and to organize the mammoth of words that have been strung together in my Google Doc, I enlisted the help of Julie Lenard, from The Storyologist. When I attended as session Julie ran at the PHL Blogger Conference back in April, the notion of a writing coach become appealing.
After several emails and a meeting, we decided to work together to help reach my goal. I’ll eventually go into more detail of how a writing coach has helped me organize my thoughts, and push myself to write topics that may not come as easily to me as others. Also, for the first time in my personal life since I was a kid, I am being held accountable for doing something.
With work, it is easy for me to not drop the ball since my accountability impacts others in the office as well as my potential paycheck. For my own personal work, the only person that is affected by my lack of action is myself which never really matters to me most of the time. But with Julie, there are multiple check ins each week to see if I actually did my writing during the times we talked about, which she can go in and read in our shared Google Doc folder. Knowing that her email will be coming and that she is expecting to be reading new content, there is a refreshed sense of urgency of me committing to writing.
Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.
The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.
Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.
Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.
Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.
At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.
Without a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.
A few hours each month I find myself transported back to a time warp, where the chairs are smaller, the voices squeaker and the smell much sweatier. The 5th grade has not changed much since I was in during the 1999-2000 school year. Except none of the kids are blasting Nsync, trading Pokemon card or watching As Told By Ginger.
They may have iPads and texting- but never will they be able to bask in perfecting the ultimate AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) Away Message and profile.
Anyway- there is a reason I’m back in the classroom besides nostalgia. I have partnered with Dancing Classrooms Philly to create original video content to showcase the impact their programs has on middle school students.
As a non-profit organization, Dancing Classroom Philly brings dancing lessons into 5th and 8th grade classrooms through in-school residency programs twice a week for a duration of 2 1/2 months. And the students getting more great workout learning dances ranging from the waltz to the rumba. Social interactions including eye contact, emotional intelligence, body contact and teamwork are all part of the program’s educational experiencE.
Through the grant funded by The Philadelphia Foundation, I have been able to capture the spring residencies of the students at four Philadelphia area schools. By creating exciting video projects, my goal is to show how Dancing Classrooms Philly helps build confidence and break down social barriers in our schools and communities- while spreading the word why #ArtEdWorks!
This has been such fun freelance project and really allows me to use a medium of storytelling that I haven’t been using lately. Here is a sneak peak of a bit of the footage I captured during the 1st week of lessons back in February!
Everything has changed but nothing has changed.
That’s how my best friend, now roommate, has chosen to sum up all of the shifting variables in both of our lives over the past month.
Initially those string of words felt on target, but the more I adopted the phrase during my explanation to others, a particular word kept tripping me up: change.
Looking around at each aspect of my life, change is bluntly apparent. The new apartment that I now call home, although only .6 miles from my former place, is a change that comes with a new roommate, although rather instead of three Craigslist strangers, it is my best friend since preschool.
Annie the cat now has more room to roam, despite of her main priorities still being a prime seat on a windowsill for bird watching and the foot of my bed.
My roommate and I still send each other politically incorrect memes via Facebook Messenger throughout the day, but rather than coming home to watch Jeopardy solo after work there is now someone else there to yell criticism at the contestants through the screen.
Monday through Friday still consists of me spending most of my days managing digital marketing for a healthcare system, but will soon be doing so in an office space around the corner from the space that had been my dwelling since starting nearly a year and a half ago.
With it, a new title now sits under my email signature which has brought a bit a welcomed padding to the bi-weekly paycheck that has thankfully be consistently deposited into my bank account since late 2011.
Dad still calls daily each morning during his commute to work, but when we talk about health ailments his newly developed symptoms are the ones that take center stage rather than the chronic decline of my mother.
Still sitting on the same couch of my childhood home, my mother’s routine has not varied from fighting with dog over the blanket, becoming preoccupied with morning talk shows and smoking True Blue cigarettes like they are going out of style. Of course this is all speculation- because for the last several weeks I have removed her from my own routine.
The actual definition of change, according to Google ,is ‘to make or become different’. Despite all of moving the parts that have been settling into my life this month- I believe all of them (minus my father’s debacle) have stemmed from the foundation of finding myself that began almost 2 years ago.
Evolution. The definition, according to Google, reads ‘the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form’.
Am I more complex form of myself? Perhaps if that includes finally implementing consistent practices of self-care, respecting self-imposed boundaries and strengthening an overall sense of self-awareness in everyday life.
Maybe evolution is why after almost 27 years on this Earth, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, no longer searching for some sense of relief.
Evolution may just be the relief of no longer being a stranger to myself.