True Happiness

When I am truly happy it’s a warmth that starts in my pelvis and spreads up through my sternum, but never reaches my heart.  My heart does not burst with cliche happiness.  It’s a much more primal emotion, and feels like someone has spread Bengay on my insides and slightly inflated me, but imagine the best possible feeling that could describe, not the torture version of inflated insides coated in Bengay.  Sometimes the happiness builds enough pressure that it seeps out my eyes.  I can describe this emotion today, because I am sitting here feeling it.

Why am I happy?  My life is filled with extraordinary people right now, and those people have caused a confluence of extraordinary experiences over the past two days.

Yesterday I planned a team outing for the amazing people I work with.  We were going out for a late lunch, partially to remember one of our colleagues who died a few years ago, and partially because we just needed to enjoy a good meal together away from the oppressive angst and uncertainty that currently permeates our workplace.  We also needed to celebrate.  An app 18 months in the making was finally approved by legal and went live on the Google Play store.  Funding that I have been fighting to get in the door for almost a year had arrived, and was enough to pay for two of us for a year.  If the looming budget cuts come, that money will save jobs.

Then my team turned the tables on me, morphing the lunch into a celebration of me, complete with a card, gifts, and a heartfelt gratitude for all I do for the team.  I was emotionally wrought and working off of four hours of sleep, so the fact that I did not break out in tears was a remarkable accomplishment.  Compounding the emotion was that because of Tuesday, I finally understood an additional facet of what I provide to the team.

Tuesday was my last Apocalyptic Fiction writing class, and while I never did accomplish my goal of being able to spell apocalyptic without the aid of spell check, I learned so much more.

  • I saw my own struggle in other’s writings, and through reviewing their work learned how I can improve.
  • I learned that I am terrible at identifying if a title is an apocalyptic novel or a death metal band.
  • While reading a book I despise I learned what I value as a reader and a writer
  • I learned that “bestseller” doesn’t mean “everyone likes this book.”  Related, I learned that I respect and value the opinion of people who like books I hate and people who hate books I like.
  • The utter terror I had sharing my work was replaced by the wonder of having people I trust not just enjoy my work, but provide thoughtful criticism on how to make that work better.  I also learned the value of giving and receiving feedback to and from other writers.
  • I learned that my love of maps can enhance my writing capabilities.  Sigh.  I love maps.
  • Through reading my classmates’ work I now understand why tension is important, what it means to have backstory delivered at the right time, how to convey information by both showing and telling, how to see the structure of a story though the mess of a draft, and why a story that has soul can pull readers in even in the early stages.

All of this was made possible, because our instructor Alexander Lumans built a supportive and encouraging environment where risks and experimentation were encouraged.  Couple that with a group of respectful, creative, engaged students and literal magic happened in our classroom for eight weeks.  Time stopped.  Worlds were built and dreams were formulated.  When there wasn’t magic, there was just great conversation.  We debated about the quality of the books we read and learned from our disagreements.  Beverage was not spewed out noses, but there was enough laughter to make that risk very real.

When the last class was over we spilled out of our couch and chair filled stuffy classroom into the real world and discovered that we liked each other as people too, not just writers.  The conversation flowed through writing, reading, television, videos, circuses, clowns, the cat in the hat, jobs, careers, and life’s injustices until the wee hours of the morning.

Walking to my car with one of my classmates I said, “I’m really glad that by the end Lumans became more than just our teacher.”  Those words came back to me at lunch on Wednesday.  I am wickedly horrible at self understanding, but a keen observer.  Often I have to see something in others before I can recognize it in myself.  Sitting at lunch I could understand how my team felt about me, and I could see ways I could make my work relationships richer through implementing what I appreciated from Lumans leadership in our class.

New friends?  A better understanding of how to improve my work relationships?  True excitement about my writing projects?  Hope of my new friends creating a writing group?  What an absolute gift the universe has given me this week in the form of two spectacular groups of people willing to open up and appreciate each other.  I’m filled with joy, trust and hope.  If that isn’t true happiness, I’m not sure what is.

The Third Day of Third Grade

I watch you.  I watch you watch them.  The pair labeled your “best friends”and the other one.  They laugh and touch and a little girl gravitational force pulls them together as it repels you.

I watch you.  I watch the jealousy and anger coil up inside you and I hope that it finds release before you snap inappropriately.  You stare unblinkingly with your ice blue eyes and the look is pure hurt because you are left out.

I watch you.  I watch as your new friend, “Well maybe friend,” you’ve said, “but not yet” walks up to you and you don’t even acknowledge her presence.  I talk to her and compliment her sweatshirt and make pleasantries, which you should be doing, but you don’t because you can’t stop staring across the blacktop as your best friends and the other laugh at something.  They are too far away, so we cannot hear what they laugh at, but we can see they are having fun without you.

I watch you.  I watch as the second maybe new friend walks up and you ignore her too.  Opportunities surround you but you can’t see them because you want to be over there with them in their class.  You want the comfort of last year.  You want familiar.  You want to be inside the threesome again and not stuck outside looking in.  The two maybe new friends stand silently ignored and you continue fester until you turn and say, “I told you I’m not popular anymore.”

I want to hurl idiotic phrases at you.  You catch more flies with honey.  Life isn’t fair.  Make new friends, but keep the old.  I want to stop your stare and refocus it on the sweet kids around you.  I want to plaster over your hurt and wounded heart and tell you it will be okay, but I don’t do any of that.  It might not be okay.  You might lash out at your old friends and miss the opportunity for new friends.  You might lose them all.  I wish for a tree to sprout between your class’s line and the other class’s line so that you don’t have to see them having fun without you.  I know it might be a long and lonely year.

I think of Rachel and Stacy 34 years ago on my playground.  I remember wishing for what they had: for the heads close together and the whispers and hand games and true friendship and wondering, “How do they do that?”  I remember longing for what they had, but never finding it.  I watch you and hope the hurt of my third grade isn’t repeated in the next generation with a different pain of loss instead of longing.

I watch you and feel the agony of a mother’s anguish.  I watch you and hope it will be okay.

The bell rings and the pain of everything makes reach for a hug and kiss, needing to be loved too much to remember I’m embarrassing.  I pour my heart into you, because you are loved and you are amazing and you can do this, and then we part.  I watch you.  I watch you walk away alone.

 

 

Gratitude for a full life 

April started and the Afthead life ramped up to a new level: gardens to plant, soccer games to play, school and work chaos to wrangle, and why not throw in a construction project to top it all off?  Things are busy, not passive aggressive whiny busy, but filled with things we love to do.  Today as I rode my bike home from dropping my car off for an oil change I thought about all the things I’m grateful for right now:

  • For the computer glitch that allowed me to book an oil change appointment even when there were no slots available, and for the kind man who said he would fit me in.
  • For the ability to ride my bike home past Craig Hospital where two people were outside in their wheelchairs enjoying the beautiful weather.
  • For the stunning flowers this spring made more precious by the snow forecast this weekend.

  • For soccer season, the girls on our team, the parents of those girls, and my own daughter’s growth in skill and friendship and enjoyment of the game.  Also, because she’s learning how to “suck it up” when things don’t go her way – a life lesson she desperately needs.
  • For unexpected bravery ignited by soccer friends which has led to my daughter desperately excited about going to sleep away camp this summer.  My baby at eight wants to go to sleep away camp?  How does that happen?

  • For warm cats in sunshine and remembering how much her brother loved sunbeams.

  • For having the means to do this to our basement just because we are tired of having no outlets and two sad overhead lights. It just feels decadent to get rid of the old dropped ceilings and flickering florescent lights and build a real grown up basement…just because we want to.

  • For a free cinnamon roll!

  • For amazing colleagues who leave mysterious tiny unicorns on everyone’s computer and can be counted on to creatively find a way to keep us going even after losing a huge chunk of funding.

  • For the patience to believe my writing is only in hibernation while the rest of the world is waking up and that it too will return after this season of fullness ends.
  • For friends, which is a whole series of posts coming.  I am so grateful right now for friends.

Happy Thursday readers!  I am so grateful for you too!

Knitworthy

A friend of mine coined a phrase that has stuck with me.  She said that in order to hand-knit something for a friend or acquaintance they had to be knitworthy. Knitworthy is not an overall measure of the quality of a person, but a judgement on their ability to appreciate handmade gifts.  Gifts that usually cost more to make, in materials alone, than it would cost to buy similar objects.  Gifts that take your time and effort to produce.  Gifts, to be fair, that are sometimes lopsided and funny looking but come with all kinds of personality built in.

Lots of wonderful people are not knitworthy.  Let me provide a parallel example.  I am not foodworthy.  Inviting me over for a fancy four-course meal is an utter waste of your effort.  I am a simple eater and cannot tell the difference between a meal that takes 4 hours of sauteing, braising, and chopping and a crock pot meal.  Do not waste your culinary wizardry on me.  Invite over another friend.  Oh, and if you are serving fancy wine, just pour me some water and enjoy it yourself.  $15 and $50 bottles of wine are the same to me.  I am a nice, good, lovely person who does not have the palette to appreciate fancy food.

Knitworthy means that the person you are giving your knitted item to will gush over it.  They will treasure it.  They will pay attention when you give them washing instructions.  They will take pictures of themselves, their children, or their spouses wearing your knit item and send those pictures to you.  They will brag to their friends that “Someone made this for me.”  They will treasure baby hats and pass them on to other babies that they love.  They will tell you that the blankie you knit is their child’s absolute favorite and they hope you have more yarn like that in case it ever gets a hole.  When they accidentally miss the washing instructions and their beloved hat shrinks into a fuzzy ball and they will beg you to make another, “just like it, but maybe in green this time.”

Today, I presented one of my dearest knitworthy friends with three hats for her kiddos.  When baby number one was born she got a teeny sweater.  When baby number two was born the new baby and her sister got coordinating hats.  Now that baby three is here, the only option was to make all three girls hats.

They were so fun to make and give.  I loved thinking about each girl and customizing the colors and the topper for her individual hat.  I loved giving them to my friend the day after the first big snowfall of the year and knowing her girls heads will be warm all winter.  I love that she slipped the teeny one on her baby’s head before they went outside, so she wore it home.  She is totally knitworthy.  Spending my time and energy making her kiddos stuff makes me so happy, makes her happy and makes her kids happy.  I can’t wait until they are teenagers and she and I can torture them with “another batch of hats from auntie Johanna”.  I think then I’ll make sure they are really itchy too.  She and I will then appreciate how my knitting skills can be used for good and evil.  Hmmm, I should start learning about GPS trackers too.  I could embed them into the hat so we can see what trouble her girls are getting into.

A Letter to my Daughter

Today your world is amazing.  You are in the middle of your three friends, not on the outside.  Our two tiny foster kittens are thriving and run to you when you enter a room.  Twenty little boys in your soccer skills class picked you as the best soccer player and literally bowed to you saying “I am not worthy.”  You are at a marvelous age where this embarrasses you a little, but mostly makes you proud and joyful.  I thought you would float off the field last night, and you want to share your story with everyone.  School just makes sense right now, and you are recognized by your teacher for excelling.  Again, this praise is welcome and soul building.  Mean kids haven’t learned how to belittle your accomplishment and turn it against you.

I sit on the sideline of your life and I want to bottle this day.  I want to take how you feel and how I feel and keep it safe, because these perfect times are fleeting.  There will be days when you are on the edge, don’t get picked for the team, or don’t get invited to the dance.  There will be days of sickness and fear and loss.  There will be days when all of these bad things happen at once, and I want to offer you a sip from today and heal whatever hurts you have.  I want to be able to take a sip from today to remind myself of how amazing you can be.

Today I try to weave a bottle of words hoping our eyes can sip when we need a reminder later.

“The End” Part 2 – The Heartstrings

I’ve often thought that there is a magical moment when something really good happens in my life and I’m the only person who knows.   It’s a special time, when the good news is all mine.  No one has reacted in a way I didn’t expect.  No one has said anything weird, or worse, mean.  The good news is a flickering glow that is all mine.

That was how I felt on Sunday night when I finished my book.  I started crying as the last words were typed.  Not a big sobbing cry, but just tears welling up.  A happy cry.  A sigh of relief cry.  A quiet amazement cry.  These people and their story that had been rattling around in my afthead for so long were out.  Their story was done, or at least the first part of their story was done.  I knew what happened.  They knew what happened.

I wrote “The End.”  I saved the story.  I backed it up, twice.  I calculated how long it took for me to write the book, and wrote down how many pages and words a little piece of paper.  I’m bad at remembering numbers, and if someone cared enough to ask how long my book was I wanted to have that information at hand.

I imagined how I would tell my family and friends the big news.  Who to tell first?  What will I say?  Should I be dramatic or off-hand?  Will they hug me and spin me around in excitement, or will they cry themselves?  My husband is on a different continent.  How will I craft the text that will be the first thing he sees when he wakes up in England?  Subtle or over-the-top?  I imagine the happiness each person will express.  Everyone will be as proud and elated as I am.

However, I am not the center of the universe and the real world doesn’t work like the little movie in my head, so before I started telling I turned towards reality.  I knew everyone would be happy for me, but in the way you are happy for someone else’s good news.

So I started.  Some people were distracted by their own life and their own situation.  Some reactions were weird.  Maybe they always wanted to write a book, but have never managed to get the words down on paper.  Maybe they just had a friend die.  Maybe they are hurt that I’ve been writing this book for two years and never mentioned it to them.  For whatever reason, they are a different happy than I imagined.

There is a flip side.  Some friends and family were happy in cool brave ways.  They said things I don’t experience outside of my deepest darkest center.  They joke about when my book will be made into a movie, like The Martian.  Of course I harbor such ridiculous dreams.  Heck!  I even have a song picked out to play during the opening scene, but I would never say that out-loud.  I want to shush them, lest they attract the attention of fate who wants to squash my hubris.  They offer knowledge and information to move me onto the next phase: sites, magazines, friends and family who can help me publish.  They want to read my book.  They tell me I inspire them.  These will be my first readers.  They are the ones I will hand a huge pile of paper and say, “Tell me what you think.”

My favorite was my daughter.  She told people, “My mom finished her book.  She read me a part once.  It was about the Wizard of Oz.  It was really good.”  I love that she understands that this is a big deal and that she knows it is special that she got a sneak peek.  Only she and my husband have glimpsed the pages of the book.  My kiddo is proud of me.  Who doesn’t want that?

Once I told all the people I walk around with in the real world, it was time to tell my blogging friends.  Really, I held out telling you because I’ve enjoyed my few days of imagining how I would tell you and how you would react.  You are in the arena with me.  You are all writers and whether it’s your quotes, your own novels, fiction, stories, or humor you are putting out there, you putting it out there too.  You are the ones who read my short story and were so wonderful and generous with your likes and your comments.  You made me brave about being willing to make something up in my head and share it.  You are the ones who will read the bits of my book that I will scalpel out in a few weeks.  The good bits that aren’t quite right for the final product.

I turn to you, just like my in-person friends, and ask, do you know what I do next?  It’s time to move to the next beginning!  Thank you for coming this far with me.  I finished my book!!!  Eeeek!!!