Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cut the Crap

I am dying to get my funny back and breathe fresh perspective into my life and writing. Is it possible that literally nothing in my life is funny? Sweet Jesus, poop cannot be the only thing. Please tell me it's not the only thing!

That's the text message I sent my best friends this morning. 

In no particular order, Friend A is a real writer and not some phony like me. She has her PhD in English and has dissertated and defended and is published. It goes without saying that I trust her implicitly. I value her opinion and rely on her when I need direction on all things prose. She's gives me thoughtful, high-level feedback and gets it when I send her deep thoughts and arcane statistics and pictures of birds accompanied by long ramblings of what I imagine they may be thinking. She is my spirit animal.

Friend B, she's a baller. This woman quite literally runs the Senate. She's one of the highest-ranked women on Capitol Hill and can't possibly know I'm writing this before it posts because she would Kill. Me. She is the most intelligent and inspiring person I know, even though her overarching writing critiques pretty much consist of, "poetry is the worst." Regardless, she is an expert on giving me perspective and I will do pretty much anything she says.

I value their opinions deeply - these women whom I have loved for decades. They've stood by me at my worst and shaped me to be my best. If anyone knows where my funny has gone, those two do.

I used to be hilarious. (Ok, maybe not hilarious, but I'm pretty sure I was at least kind of humorous.)

I could make my friends laugh and make my family laugh and I could most certainly make myself laugh, which truthfully, is all we can really ask for in this world, right? To be able to laugh at ourselves? Anyway, I was good at the zings and the one-liners and the comebacks. I could crack jokes to make an entire table erupt and on occasion I might even elicit a smile from an actual funny person.

So what the hell happened? How did I become this version of myself who has so completely lost her funny? I'm not talking about my sense of humor. I still have that, although it's questionable at times and some days it gets confused and downright defensive. But what about my ability to lighten up and laugh at the silly parts of life? Where did that go? 

Sometimes I worry that I take myself too seriously or that I'm a cliche. A blonde, stay-at-home, mommy blogger who writes about her children ad nauseam and lives in her yoga pants? Yowzers. Honestly, I'm fine being a stereotype because stereotypes are made to be broken (plus my Lululemon pants are comfy as hell), but being a cliche is a scarlet letter C as far as I'm concerned. 

Thus the texts to my girls. I need them to read between the lines and answer the underlying questions - am I a hack? Am I just floating in the wind grabbing onto wispy clouds of used-to-be's and wish-I-wases and faux paragons that ultimately disintegrate before I can get even get my fingers around them?

Can I regain my ability to incorporate mirth into my everyday life - to find the funny instead of the frustration? Am I brave enough to document my quest for the world to see? What if people misunderstand my intentions or don't like my writing or don't like me? What if I'm destined to live a life of utter solemnity?

Steven Pressfield says, "our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal image we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and BECOME it."

So who am I? Well, the good thing is that I mostly know the answer to that question. The bad thing is that knowing the answer is scary because it leaves me with a great responsibility to live the life I dream for myself. It challenges me to move past any underlying fears I have about being exposed and seek what I yearn for the most - humor, creativity, inspiration, bravery. All the rich, delicious, rare, marrow-sucking parts of life. 

I have always been true to myself, but I've also always been secretly terrified. I've worried over how others will accept me or my work. I've spent countless hours fearing people and their opinions of me. I've been frozen in place, too frightened to say what I mean because I didn't want to offend or stir things up or open myself to criticism. These things - among others - have certainly played a role in my austerity.

What I've learned, however, is that complacency and kindness are not good replacements for intrepidity and gumption.

Some people will think I'm funny. Some people will think I'm a fraud. I have learned this is just a constant in life. We will all be seen through the the distorted lenses of others - many will have a blurry view and a few will have rose-colored glasses.

I am lucky to have a tribe of people who see me clearly. People who support me and give me a big high five every now and then. These are the people to whom I voice my insecurities. The people to whom I ask, "Am I still funny?" It's not that I need them to agree with me or "yes" me to death. It's that I need them to hear me and allow me space to be unequivocally me. I need them to point me in the right direction when I venture off my path, and to help when I fear an important part of myself has gone missing.

We all need people like this in our lives, because a vast majority of the world is happy to take small pieces of what we have to offer and compartmentalize it in a way that feels most comfortable to them. This is what we humans DO. We judge as we see fit.

But here's what I've realized about this phenomenon - that it's ok. It is absolutely fine to give others the permission to redefine my intentions without it causing me to redefine myself. I am free to live my life without the weight of someone else's expectations on my shoulders. Ultimately, it is up to me to say, "I know you are scared. I am, too. Feel free to take what I have to offer and reshape it in a way that makes you feel comfortable - I know amending other people's significance makes us all feel a little bit safer. I have no power over your thoughts or opinions of me, and while the apprehensive, Southern girl in me would realllly like you to like me, the curious, honest, open woman in me understands that we are all human. I will not stop you from feeling what you feel. Likewise, I will no longer offer myself up in a way that is not in direct alignment with who I am." 

Understanding this is not always easy, but we can do things that are difficult. We do not ever need to fear or apologize or caveat our intentions.

I know I am ultimately in charge of overcoming my own neuroses and seeking my own happiness. Of finding my own funny. Which while overwhelmingly terrifying at times, is the only way to live the purposeful life I crave. And since I tend to believe that the best things in life are scary, I'm up for the challenge. Besides, my fear is the least interesting thing about me. We're all scared of something and being true to one's self is about the least cliched thing a person can do.

From that perspective, I already have the answers that I seek. If I think about it logically, I know precisely how I arrived in the Land of No Fun. Stage of life and age combined with small-town living and my insatiable desire for moremoremore, have partnered up with a few serious years and an underlying blanket of fear to yield an outlook that is more weighty than witty. 

As Friend A so beautifully responded, "In every life a lack of humor must fall! I swear, it's our age - it is the season of hard work. Nothing is funny in my life these days."

See, we need our people to help put things into perspective. Everyone is effing boring - we're all in it together!

I'm not sure that this is sufficient, though. I need that overwhelming joie de vivre. The belly laughter and the streaming tears and the full-face-hurting-grin. It has become blindingly clear to me that beyond living authentically, reclaiming those things is pivotal to who I am and to who I may become. 

My attraction to wit has me convinced this is a provocation more than anything. As Friend B put it, "you just really have to laugh at everything."

Finding funny in the mundane - I can do that, right? Perhaps the big secret to finding my funny is to embrace my life as the comedy of errors that it is. By being more curious than fearful, more honest than compliant. Perhaps I'll uncover all the hilarity I need by simply opening the doors and announcing my presence. Maybe it will show up in my writing or surprise me during my trepidatious foray into social media. More likely, I'll find it in a sticky cupholder or in the long-forgotten hiding place of my yoga pants pocket. 

Hopefully the droll will at least move beyond the realm of diaper changes. Because as much as I love a good poop pun, there's got to be more to life than that. Especially when there's poop in the tub - that shit ain't right.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Birthday Gift

Three years ago today, I stared into a pair of murky blue eyes and kissed a nose that was an exact replica of my own. Six pounds is tiny, but in my son's eyes I could see the deepest recesses of the sea and the entire galaxy all at once. He had a way about him that was magnetic and transformative and though I didn't know then what our lives had in store, I instinctively understood that we could manage it together. 

We were told that our second child would be born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, but that was really all we knew. What could be more than that, anyway? Those two facts had so intensely rocked my world that it would take seventeen days before I could manage to ebb the tide of tears. So utterly shattered was I by the (mis)understanding of what my son's future held, it was all I could do to live with the stranger in my belly. I grew increasingly frustrated that I had to use our shared oxygen to keep from suffocating under the weight of the pain. 

In the end it didn't matter - he was already too deeply embedded in my heart and womb, busying himself to teach me lessons I didn't know I needed to learn. 

In that hour after he was born, he would be taken from me for an exhausting and challenging stay in the NICU. Those long days and nights would prepare us for future hours and weeks and months and years of medical intervention. For a relentless influx of poking and prodding and prescriptions and surgeries and hospital stays and surly medical professionals who referred to our child as a "down's baby" instead of by his God-given name. 

In those early days I didn't know much about PT or OT or SLT. I was so worried about him holding up his head that I could not be rational about the fact that he would eventually and walk and run and dance. I'd never heard of an expressive-receptive language gap and couldn't have known that such a thing would be directly attributable to his frustration as he attempted but failed to say the words that lived on the tip of his little tongue.

I certainly didn't know that my hands would feel the phantom weight of his 11-week old body after I handed him over for open heart surgery, or that my heart would irreparably crack while I waited the eight excruciating hours for his return. I was clueless about intubation and isolation and Intensive Care Units and sanitizing protocols. I had no idea that white coat syndrome is an actual thing and that it's possible to hear drips and beeps and alarms in your sleep for years after the fact. 

Oh, and cancer. I didn't know a single thing about cancer. 

Leukemia. I could write about it for hours without stopping. The months that we spent away from our home and our friends and our family. The chemotherapies and the side effects and the beautiful, blonde, silken baby hair that fell out in my hands as I caressed and comforted my son each night. Nights were so impossibly long and scary - full of unspeakable thoughts and what-ifs and dread over the number of hours we might have left. How could I have possibly known about that?

Before my son came into the world, I foolishly thought that the things I wanted would be guaranteed and granted. I thought that my best laid plans were actually the best laid plans. I never thought Down syndrome or cancer would become chapters in the story of my life.

But words and diagnoses are not people - they do not define who a person is or how much they can accomplish or what they can offer to others. The reality is that planning and preparing and predicting for a particular outcome is futile. The only thing that is really certain is uncertainty, and while that can be scary when it comes in the form of cancer, it can also offer clarity and contentment in the gift of a plucky, towheaded little boy. 

A little boy who came perfectly into our world just to save us from getting stuck in it. A little boy who so courageously fought his own battles that we had no choice but to follow his lead. A little boy who slept peacefully in my belly and afterward in my arms knowing all along that we would overcome the countless unknowns together.

Today I celebrate the birth of a child who is so unique, capable and downright edible that I wouldn't trade one sleepless night for the endless days of joy that he has brought me. I didn't know much three years ago, but those almond-shaped eyes held the secret all along: he is everything I never knew I needed. And I could not live without him.

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