Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I am lonesome.

When I started this blog five years ago, I hadn't calculated that in chronicling my writing pursuits, enumerating each rejection toward acceptance by a publication, that I'd also be recording the ups and downs, ins and outs of my life in general. Now, I'm so used to coming to this space and doing exactly that. I have a new entry to make tonight in this ongoing chronicle.
I understand better now that five years ago I wasn't yet able to comprehend what life would look and feel like if I didn't hide behind the facades of “Everything's fine! Really!” I plodded along, making the best of untenable situations thinking that was the best strategy—the one that would serve me, and my daughter, best.
As I've written many times, I was wrong.
If you've followed this story for a few years, you know the tide changed—and in shorter time than I expected things changed for the better. I have this blog and the friends who coached me to tell my stories to thank for that.
This evening I had plans to talk with a friend who lives too many time zones away. It takes some maneuvering for our schedules to jibe, which means we don't talk on the phone much.
While I was on my lunch walk, I got a message that he needed to reschedule our call. Things come up. Of course we can find another time.
But then I felt this wave of disappointment wash over me. I kept walking up the hill, feeling the afternoon sun heat up the skin under my denim shirt. I did a mental scan of my thoughts and sensations inside my body. My reaction was growing bigger, sadder, angrier. I asked myself, “What does the moment, this reaction of mine, have to teach me?”
See, that's how I'm different these days. I let myself feel all the feelings, and I don't berate myself for what answers surface. I noticed that my reaction was bigger than the phone call cancellation called for. Things come up. I wasn't mad about that. I'm flexible. I can deal.
I kept walking. Then I sat in the shade, caught my breath. My daughter who is home bound on summer break FaceTimed me. I was glad for the distraction. We talked for awhile and then still keeping her company, I headed back to work. The walking is SO good in moments like this. It ensures that all the sensation, all the feeling keeps moving. It doesn't have a chance to get stuck.
Over the next few hours, with the help of some friends who heard me out as I texted my way to better understanding myself, I discovered that indeed, the canceled phone call was not the source of my angst. The deeper answer was that for as much as I say that I love being single and I love my own company, and I am relishing my alone time, the truth is I feel lonesome.
Over the past three years, I kept those feelings mostly at bay with two long-distance friendships that served as buffers. We were in regular contact and so even though these men lived out of town and our contact was primarily by text, I felt like I had company.
These friendships were crucial to helping me settle into my new life, and I am eternally grateful to them. But as with the ebbs and flows of all aspects of life, these friendships changed. While I know these changes are for the best, it doesn't change that I miss the company.
I am lonesome, which feels different from being lonely. I don't want to fall in love yet. I don't have the energy for romance while I have an eleven-year-old asking if I've been on a date on the weekends she's not with me. That's new territory that I need more time to adjust to--I'm not ready for all of that.
What I am ready for is a guy friend who lives in the metro area. To have someone who will watch the new episode of David Letterman's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction on Netflix. Someone who will meet me for a walk around Creve Coeur Lake, go kayaking, or meet for coffee after yoga.
My current situation bores me. I feel like a broken record vacillating between loving my independence and wishing I had someone to share time with. Today I decided it was time to try something different, and I'm the only one who can change the plot line. I'm not sure what different looks like yet, but I know that doing the same thing—waiting at my library for handy, bearded readers who like to travel and listen to Avett Brothers-and expecting different results is insanity. It's also yet to work.
So maybe I'll try online dating, or join an adventure book club or fill-in-the-blank (I'm open to ideas). I took no big actions tonight other than baking fish and veggies, watching the two West Wing episodes I know will make me cry, and writing this post.
Historically, the best things have happened when I decide it's time for a change and to do something that scares me. We'll see what happens. You know I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Rejections 16 and 17

The rejections are mounting! Rejection 16 came in January when I did not hear from Real Simple Magazine about my entry to their essay contest which asked the question, What was the happiest moment of your life? It is typical that a publication will only inform the winners, so when I don't hear anything around the date specified for announcements, I am confident that I can call it a rejection.
I have submitted to Real Simple numerous times, and I fought this year's topic, not knowing what might stand out to judges as an authentic, thoughtful answer to the question. A friend told me that the magazine didn't want my consternation, they wanted my essay. With usual directness, he told me to hurry up, pick a topic, and get to writing.
I chose the story of reconnecting with college friends who I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years and what I learned about myself as a 40-something compared to the twenty-something I'd been the last time I was with these friends. It wasn't my best work, but I was glad to get the words on paper and to email my submission.
Here's an excerpt from “Happiness in the Aftermath.”
“Post-divorce life keeps teaching that 'what is' should not be compared with 'what once was' or 'what never was.' I am writing a different divorce story. One where I am happy to be on my own. Happy to co-parent my daughter in collaboration and civility with her father. I no longer feel anxiety about what the future may bring. I have tapped into the fun of making up the rules as I go. This weekend confirmed again and again that I have emerged from the aftermath of divorce, happy and joyful. I feel whole and content...”
Getting those words on the screen to re-read to myself is valuable and worth the effort—regardless of where in the publishing world those words land.
This 300 Rejections journey reminds me repeatedly of what's important: Committing and showing up to write. The outcome and quality are secondary. Quality work is a by-product of showing up. Rejection 17 is a stronger submission than Rejection 10 by virtue of the fact that I continue to stretch myself, to swim in words, and discover what's inside that needs to be expressed.
MC Yogi, a yoga teacher and thought leader, posted this phrase on Instagram today: Practice makes progress. I like it better than what I usually tell my daughter, Practice makes proficient.
In the last year or so, I have begun dreaming of giving a TED Talk. It's one of those big, scary goals that I have no idea how to get from here to there to achieve. I first have to figure out what idea of mine is worth spreading, which is the tagline of TED talks.
Today I stood in my daughter's school learning commons (aka the library) and told the librarian about my burgeoning writing pursuits. I told her the back story of 300 Rejections and how I have turned what many writers experience as disappointment and discouragement into motivation, celebration, and a measuring stick for my own grown as a wordsmith.
In the brief conversation, we both heard me say something so elemental, we stopped and gasped. I reached for a pencil and she went running for a piece of paper. I may very well have found my TED talk! Now, the marinating of the seed of an idea will begin. I'll think about it in the shower and on the drive to work. Ideas will sprout as I mow my lawn. I know today that while I may very well be on to something, I have more life to live, more stories to stockpile before this idea turns into to a speech that I craft and practice inside and out.
I also know that this idea wouldn't have happened without these rejections, which is another thing to celebrate.
Rejection 17 was an essay I wrote as an answer to the essay query, How to Survive a Disaster? The deadline was January 31—two weeks after my grandpa's funeral. I channeled my grief and energy into writing this essay, and the result is a four-page essay that I am deeply proud of. It took so much out of me in the days following my grandpa's death that I didn't write anything substantive for months after.
I stalked the web site on April 30, the day the announcement was supposed to be made. Then I forgot about it until a few days ago. The announcement was delayed. While I didn't find my name listed, at least I know definitively that I can count this one as Rejection 18.
I feel strongly about this essay, so I have two more places I want to submit it to before I publish it here. So, I'll either get Rejections 19 and 20, or I'll get my first 300 Rejections-inspired acceptance. I'll report back when I know either way. In the meantime, keep doing whatever it is that you do that lights your fire, keeps you up late or wakes you up early. We need to keep bringing those things that light us up into the world.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


Since execution of the 40/40 list three years ago, I now mark time differently than I did before. I observe life events as anniversaries more readily than I have in the past. The things I honor are obscure but full of meaning—equal parts celebrating the every day moments that become monumental over time while acknowledging how far I have come.

This weekend marks the first anniversary of me chopping off my hair. It was such a change for me that for the first thirteen weeks, I documented the rate of hair growth. I wanted to get a sense of what this new cut would look like in all its stages of growth and how long I could get by without a trim. I was surprised that it took more than three months before the second cut was imperative.

I've thought a lot about this hair cut over the year. I have learned six things:

1. I have a cowlick I didn't know I had. It's in the back. Northeast of my left ear. It's more prominent when my hair grows out. It is giving me the practice in letting go of seeking perfection. Some days no amount of goop will tame it, and I have come to embrace of that rascally element. Plus, I can't really see it unless I turn my head to the right, so I don't do that much.

2. With this haircut, I can no longer where my beloved hats. This realization stung at first. My hat collection and my insistence on wearing hats throughout adulthood and against the fashion grain were two ways I set myself apart from my peers and asserted confidence in inhabiting my own particular skin. With time, I have accepted that my hat wearing days are over, and I am closing that chapter by liquidating some of my collection. When it's time for wearing hair accessories again, I'm going to keep my eye out for cool headbands and fascinators. Maybe those will be the new thing I use to set myself apart. Or maybe I'll stick with being really confident in who I have become. See #3 and #4.

It's a little bit like when I discovered that I'd outgrown my beloved Notting Hill DVD from the early 2000s and put it in the donation pile. I was incredulous at first, but it felt right to let it go. Same with the hats.

3. I am no longer photogenic. Longer hair that framed my face served me well in photographs throughout my life. I regularly took good ID photos, which was so weird. I believed most of the time that I looked better in photos than I did in real life. It's taken some adjustment, but now I am confident living with the reverse situation. I like that I feel confident in real time. 

4. This haircut is the physical representation of a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual transformations that have taken place in the past three-plus years. When I look in the mirror, I remember how I am not the same woman. I am sturdier, more confident, less scared and reactionary than I have been in the past. I know that I have put in the time to grow as a person, mother, and writer.

5. My already low-maintenance morning routine requires even less time, which gives me more time to sleep, talk and laugh with my daughter, and do light housekeeping before work.

6. Hair is serious business. I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. It is a major achievement in being human to reach a state when one's interior and exterior match.

Cowlick mentioned in #1
photo: CJM

Easter morning, fresh cut, goop applied

Three weeks later, fringe beginning to show at left temple
also: doing what I love, talking about writing at a young authors conference