Gifts and Thanks.

The other day, my co-worker and I were talking about the beauty of thank you notes. I told her I was raised to write a thank you note every time, for every gift, and that I still do it to this day. She said she does the same, and then proceeded to blow my mind: as a kid, she wasn’t allowed to play with, touch, or otherwise engage with any toy or gift she got until a thank you note had been written.

That is some diabolical next-level shit, and I AM HERE FOR IT. Reason #462 why I wish I could procreate: I’d do the same thing.

I love thank you notes. I love writing them, even when I hate writing them. It feels… official. Formal. Like, I can say thank you a million times, but if I send it to you in writing, then I mean it and you’ve got permanent evidence of my gratitude. C and I wrote a good portion of our wedding thank-you’s while we were on our honeymoon, and it was a lovely way to relive our gratitude. Not just for the gifts, but for the people who showed up for us on such a huge and wonderful day. I had it in my head to send thank you’s to everyone, present nor not, just because it meant so much; I don’t know that I ever did it, but certainly, the gifts were acknowledged. I wouldn’t and couldn’t rest until all the notes were sent.

I keep a lot of the thank you notes I’ve received from my nieces and nephews. They’re funny, sweet, and the handwriting is a heart-tugging way of seeing them grow up. I’ve written before about the value and importance of hand-written notes from that perspective; getting a note from your nephew and having it hit you that he’s not 7 years old anymore, and he’s got a teenager’s handwriting… it just does something to you. Like seeing the change in your own writing as you age. Or that of your mother’s hand.

Thank you notes aren’t everyone’s bag, and really, as time passes, the beauty of a written note seems to be getting lost. I don’t hold it against someone if they don’t send a note, because I know it’s a thing that not everyone values, but I gotta say, I love them and will probably always send them – even if the recipient says it’s not necessary. Maybe not for them, but it absolutely is for me.

And that brings me to the topic of presents.

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten progressively more unreasonably rabid about not wanting physical gifts for Christmas (or birthdays, or anything else for that matter). Some of it stems from not wanting people to blow their money, some of it comes from not wanting to be at the mercy of someone’s idea of what a good present for me might be, and a lot of it comes from the practical side of my brain: if you’re going to spend money on me, then put it in the form of cash so I can buy groceries or some shoes that don’t have holes in the soles. Give a gift card to Lowe’s or something so I can get a new dishwasher or a light fixture.

Practical presents, instead of giving something just for the sake of giving something. Especially if it’s something I’m going to have to figure out how to discretely donate or hide or dispose of. That just seems like a waste, all the way around, AND there’s a self-inflicted emotional guilt component to it that I loathe.

Giving presents – and expecting presents – at Christmas has lost its magic for me, for some reason. And I have to think there’s more to it than just practicality, because it’s… visceral. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the money to buy what I’d want to for people. Or maybe it’s because I’m not the type to be super thoughtful about gifts, you know, like someone who manages to find something perfect and perfectly suited for the recipient, and it’s something you’d never think to get for yourself but it’s awesome? Yeah. I’m not that person. And I don’t ever want to spend money on something that a person wouldn’t want, nor would I want to inflict a gift that they’re going to have to “manage.”

And why are we giving each other presents, anyway? Why is there an expectation of gift giving? I mean, I get it. It’s fun to see wrapped presents under a tree. Fun to see little kids get excited and tear through everything. But then, at some point, it becomes perfunctory, an expectation, and the magic is gone. Of course, there’s the original religious aspect to the whole thing, which may very well perpetuate the magic for the believers, but for the rest of us…

If I’m being honest, I probably love getting presents, and it’s just the guilt of not being able to reciprocate because I’m broke, coupled with a total disdain for EXPECTATION OF THINGS (because expectations = disappointment and premeditated resentments), that has me feeling like I just want to cancel Christmas. I don’t know. It all makes me feel like a scrooge.

BAH HUMBUG.

 

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Dynamic dynamics and some reflection in the ripples.

But before I dive into all that… I wonder if I’ll ever not think about Electra Woman and Dyna Girl when I use the word “dynamic?”  (I hope not. I miss that lunchbox. And I just fell down a rabbit hole of excellent old lunchboxes, darn it!)

When C and I first met, ours was a pretty easy integration. I had room, space, and time for him, and – when he wasn’t traveling – he had the same for me. Neither of us had much in the way of social obligations, so the majority of our free time was spent together, and it just… worked. It was lovely because it all made sense.

But he has kids, he has a family, and he had a life prior to meeting me. I have family, and a long time of being on my own which meant I was accustomed to doing things my way, or my family’s way. I’d never really given much thought to how much of a challenge it might be, could be, and probably would be, to integrate families that have pre-existing dynamics that may not match up with the other. In fact, it’d be pretty miraculous if they did easily and magically align with no chafing. With two people, it’s not so hard to make adjustments and establish new family dynamics, but when there’s all that other stuff, other people, all those prior patterns and behaviors and expectations… it can get challenging, or at least feel that way.

Some years ago, I opted out of Thanksgiving with my family and went to spend it with friends in New Orleans. I missed my family the entire time. Even when we only spend a few hours together, or if someone doesn’t start cooking the turkey until 8pm, it’s YOUR family. These are the people and the customs you’re used to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had a GREAT time in New Orleans, but I often found myself preoccupied with my internal leaky faucet of comparisons: “This isn’t how it’s done. That isn’t the couch I’m used to, those aren’t the foods I’ve come to love and expect, these aren’t the people who have no problem leaving the room to go screw around on the computer or play ping-pong downstairs…” 

Comparison is the thief of joy, you know.

So, this year will the the 3rd of maybe the last 10-15 where I can remember not spending it with my family; he and I are driving to Atlanta to spend it with his parents and his kids. We figured since he gets the kids for the holiday, it would be great to all get together down there (and easier, and probably less confusing & stressful for everyone to not have a major holiday at our house just yet – especially since our dining table hasn’t shown up). I’m looking forward to it; his parents have a lovely house that is comfortable, and also large enough for everyone to spread out and keep entertained, which means we all keep our sanity, I think.

I’d be lying if I said it isn’t also just a little bittersweet to not be spending it with MY people.

But you know, things change. They’re… dynamic. Families change, relationships change, realities change, dynamics change, venues change; you’d think I’d be used to that by now, right? It’s happening at work, and in the not too distant past, it happened with friendships here, as well.

I won’t get into the family stuff too much, but suffice to say, there’s “stuff”… which is all the more reason why it’s a good and timely thing C & I are heading out of town. Things are changing with my family all over the place, and I can guarantee they won’t look the same a year from now, much less 5 or 10. Even if/when your family drives you up a damn wall bonkers, they’re still YOUR people. The devil you know, right? It’s what you’re used to.

The friendship thing took an unexpected turn some years back as a result of some “stuff” too, but ultimately, it changed like someone threw a huge rock in the pond and the ripples unsettled the status quo; the underwater critters have since resettled in their new spots after being displaced by the rock and the waves, but the slow and gentle lilt keeps it all moving around – just a little, I think, as is the nature of relationship. It’s really just part of life, and I get that, but have been paying a whole lot more attention to it all lately; maybe because it’s important to me to get it as right as I can these days.

At work, we had what’s being referred to as “workforce reduction” – we had to lay off some really good people a few weeks ago, all of whom brought not only huge talent to the agency, but huge hearts and personalities, as well. The place just doesn’t feel the same without them, so the dynamics there have shifted, both from the absence of some, and the remains of the others. It feels like something is missing; something is different. And even something as simple as one new person moving into our office suite, and another person moving across the office to a different desk… everything changes. It’s almost amazing, the ripple effect. If it weren’t so potentially disruptive, I mean.

I know I add to it with my own reticence and resistance to change. I am Bruce Lee’s greatest disappointment, because I am NOTHING like water when it comes to change, or to life happening. I’m messy, and I’m petulant, and it takes me a while to process through all the feelings I have about things. And in the midst of all those feelings, the part of a person where they’re able to pretend like everything is fine was apparently never installed for me, so you always know where you stand, and where I’m at. I worry sometimes that I should have more of a social nicety filter where I can make people feel better and not inflict my own mood on the situation… but then I’m reminded that I’m simply being authentic, and it ain’t such a bad thing.

More about that whole “making things okay for people” thing in another post.

Anyway. Pre-existing dynamics are a mofo, I tell you what. I mean, most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and observe if they aren’t yours to navigate; you can rise above and not participate, just learn. I’m grateful for that. But I’m also having to recognize every time my own upbringing, conditioning, and dynamics are showing up and preventing me from allowing for true connection. I’m having to own up to all the conflicting emotions that crop up as a result of bringing my stuff to the table, recognizing that my way isn’t necessarily the best way – it’s just a different way. I have to breathe, give space, and hold presence with how C interacts with his family, kids, ex-wife… knowing they have a lifetime of engagement, and that I am the “outsider.” Just as it would be if I had kids and an ex of my own (at least, one I had to talk to).

Some folks say blending or integrating families is simple, and we all just complicate it by thinking about it too much. I think there probably are situations and times where it would be simple and straightforward… but more often than not, you’re dealing with not just the people who show up, but all the stuff and things they carry with them (which, you could argue, is an integral part of who they are, at least at that particular moment). Memories, hopes and dreams that may not be coming to fruition anymore, expectations, resentments, behaviors…

Ghosts.

Our new dining room table only seats 6; I think we’d need a much bigger venue if we tried to hold the holiday at our home this year.

Anyway. I find it interesting to note each year when my attachment to Thanksgiving shows up. Christmas I can take or leave; I’ve gotten REALLY sensitive about gifts, people wasting money on things other people may or may not want… I’m bitter about the expectation of present exchanges on a holiday that – for me – has no other real meaning. You know? But Thanksgiving. There’s something about it that goes pretty deep, and I guess I’d do well to figure that out so I can just enjoy the time, the food, the company, and the concept of gratitude, all in my first year married to a wonderful man (and all of the goodness that comes with that – dynamics be damned or embraced).

Thanksgiving was the closest thing to a steady tradition I’ve had in a life full of moves and transition and change, so maybe that’s all there is to it. And maybe it’s time to establish our own dynamic dynamics, our own holiday traditions. Maybe that’s how it all starts over: with us.

Ding dong, the witch is dead.

Every year about this time, I reflect on where I was – WHO I was – in November of 1998. For those of you just tuning in: I was an IV drug user, addicted to heroin, cocaine, and anything else I could find… and for a brief time, I was homeless on the streets of San Francisco.

I’ve told the story of Thanksgiving, when I sat in the rain in Golden Gate Park, eating food prepared for the homeless by a Latinx family who spoke little to no English, who wanted simply to feed everyone they could. I’ve talked about knowing my sister, her (future) husband, and their/our friends were having dinner together just miles away in Oakland; knowing I was invited, and also knowing I was too full of shame to attend. Thankfully, it wasn’t much longer after Thanksgiving that I finally had enough, finally hit the low emotional point where I was ready to accept the consistent, gentle, and loving offers to help from my family… finally willing to admit I deserved to live, and that somewhere deep down, I still wanted to.

I’ve told the story about being in the throes of addiction, spending time in a relationship with another junkie who made it clear he was in love with someone else, but who continued to spend his time with me unless/until she opened the door for him to come back, even temporarily. He lived with me when I was still able to keep a roof over my head; ours was a partnership of desperation and despair. I remember once writing the words, “please help me” on a piece of paper and sticking it in a book, hoping the message would somehow float out into the universe.

I find it fitting that I would look for a solution in a book, considering it’s where I’ve found so many of them, before and since.

But it’s that apartment I keep thinking about. I’d taken it over from my sister when she moved across the bay to live with her dude; I thought if I did that, I’d stop spending money on drugs, and instead use it to afford a home in a great neighborhood. But good intentions and wishes can never overpower a demon or disease; in this case, I was suffering from both, and my only hope was a wholesale revolution of self, which wouldn’t come until much later.

I lost that apartment when I couldn’t afford to pay the rent, and when my family discovered the extent of my drug use. I was taken to treatment, where I lasted all of about 4-5 days. That’s when reality hit. When the bad feelings started to crop up. And I don’t just mean the dope sickness, which in and of itself is panic-inducing and enough to make anyone run to the hills in search of something – anything – to not have to feel it anymore. Instead, it was the thoughts and the feelings and everything else I’d been working to numb and avoid… THAT was what had me climbing the walls, unable to focus on anything else but my misery and the one thing I knew would fix it, even while exacerbating it everywhere else. When you get to that point, repercussions don’t matter. How you’re affecting other people doesn’t matter. The possibility of overdose and death really don’t matter… in fact, the possibility of death seems almost a sweet reprieve, even when you’re absolutely not seeking it out with intention.

So, after those 4-5 days in treatment, I walked out. I knew I had money waiting for me in a bank account, certainly enough to get high for a week or two, and then I’d figure it out. I didn’t know what “figure it out” meant, nor did I care; you live in the moment when you’re in that frame of mind. It’s mindfulness of the worst and most desperate kind.

It’s funny, though. I wouldn’t “spare change” people… I wouldn’t steal from stores to eat or sell things for drug money… I wouldn’t prostitute myself… so, I had limits in how I was willing to survive on the streets. And those limits rendered me essentially useless. I ate out of a few garbage cans here and there, but mostly I just didn’t eat. I didn’t bathe for a month that I can remember. I smoked other peoples’ cigarette butts out of public ashtrays. I slept in parks. I terrorized my family, manipulating and lying to them to get them to send money so I could eat, but mostly so I could keep buying drugs.

Eventually, I met up with a guy named Mark. I’d met Mark through my ex several months prior; he became something of a guide for me during my short time on the streets, helping me survive a little longer. He was the closest thing to a friend I had out there, and I’m grateful for the protection he offered when I needed it. It was a rare thing, to find someone in a similar situation and to actually be able to trust them. At least for a little while, anyway; I guess at some point, it might eventually get back to “everyone for themselves.” out of necessity, but I wasn’t out there long enough for that to happen.

On what turned out to be my last night on the streets, I’d joined up with Mark to buy drugs and to find somewhere safe and dry for the night. It was dark, with a light rain falling; we trudged through the streets of the Upper Haight, and finally came to a place where Mark said he knew we could crash for the night.

It was my old apartment building.

But we weren’t going IN the building… we were going UNDER it.

He’d found a crawlspace, accessible from the street; we proceeded to crawl, wriggle, and otherwise navigate our way to a spot just big enough for a few people to stretch out. We were lying on the earth, building belly as our sky. I remember, even then, finding bittersweet and sour humor – is it irony? – in the fact that what was once my home, meant to envelop me, was now a big, dark, looming beast essentially landing on top of me.

Like the house on the wicked witch… only this was all self-inflicted.

In a way, it was a poetic end, right? The house done killed the witch, alright… but the house was, in fact, still a home. It was a beacon of what was possible, what was out there if I fought for it and let people help me get there. And the witch was my addiction; it didn’t fully die for a few years after that, reappearing as a spectre or yet another death rattle in other kinds of behaviors and actions and thoughts and things that just needed time to work themselves out. Like cutting off a chicken’s head… the body is still gonna do its thing for a bit.

Getting sober is a lot like that. You can take away the substances, and that’s cool, but then you’ve got a holy shit pile of thought patterns and behaviors and survival skills and defense mechanisms and dysfunctional programming to undo. Addiction doesn’t just HAPPEN… and neither does recovery.

I’m not sober anymore, and haven’t been for 12 or 13 years, I guess. I took the absolutely necessary time of being sober, did the work as best I could, kept and employed the tools I learned in AA… and now, I have wine with dinner, or the occasional cocktail out on the town, and there’s no fear of me returning to where I was. Not everyone is like that, and I think it’s a huge mistake to assume anyone else could “do sobriety” like me and have it work out exactly the same. We are the sum of our own experiences, and it doesn’t mean I’m better or worse – just different in what works for me. I still go to therapy regularly, all these years later; I’m hyper-vigilant when it comes to self-introspection, evaluation, and assessment. I constantly take personal inventory, because it’s how I’m wired. And I think that, more than anything, is what keeps me alive and thriving.

Here’s to another year of reflection and gratitude. The further away it gets, the more surreal it all seems; but I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for everything I’ve been through. And you know… I like who I am, so I’ll take it.

Weddings are Weird, Part 2: The Debrief

Two weeks ago, I got to marry my best friend. The one person I could easily, without question, imagine spending the rest of my days with… and, in fact, couldn’t imagine my days without. The wedding went off without a hitch (other than, you know, US getting hitched) and I think it went really well. For anyone interested in the ceremony, the readings, the order of events, etc., I’ve put everything (other than our vows, for the time being) here: https://carterandpaigearehome.com/2017/09/17/the-big-day-recap/

I had people tell me to try and stay in the moment, to appreciate it all as best I could or else I’d forget everything, and I think I did that (stay in the moment, I mean). But I also think that when you’re in a whirlwind of activity, when you’re under the stress of standing in front of 75 people being vulnerable, when you’re a born project manager and want to be sure you’ve remembered to manage every last detail, and then when you only have three hours to visit with those 75 people you invited, it’s all going to fly by and get fuzzy no matter how present you are. That’s what photos and video are for! And all the stories people tell  you afterward! It’s a collective memory-making event, and we are really and truly grateful for everyone who was able to attend, who could then share their memories with us afterward.

Part of me really wishes we could have invited twice as many people. There are so many others I wish could have been there, and that’s one of the things about this whole event that was somewhat vexing. When we decided to hold the event at Sinema, we were automatically limited to 80 guests. 100, if we’d crammed people in, but 80 would fit comfortably. Our family made up ~30 of that, which left 50 people we could invite. We could have easily doubled or tripled that with friends we love and care about, and you know what? That’s a wonderful “problem” to have, but it means you just have to get okay with not having everyone there. Yes, it was a financial decision, but it was also a logistical decision, and we (I) finally just had to make peace with trusting that anyone not invited would hopefully understand and, if not, it wasn’t an emotional burden we could – or should – carry. But it’s a weird thing to navigate, and I’m grateful to not have to do it again. Ever. 🙂

Other items of note:

  • The day after Carter proposed was when people started asking when the big day was. As soon as we landed on a date, people wanted to know where we’d be getting married, if I had a dress, etc. As soon as I found someone to make my dress, people kept asking if it was ready, how the fittings were going, if I loved it yet, if I was nervous it wasn’t done… I finally got to the point where I was tired of talking about the wedding; the details were stressing me out so having people ask me about it was just reminding me of the stress, and I was over it. I might have told a few people that we’d called it off, just so they’d stop asking me about it.
  • I’m not a nice person.
  • The big question now seems to be whether or not I’m going to change my last name; the answer is, “No.” Whether or not I take Carter’s name has absolutely no impact on how “married” I feel or how connected we are, and he (thankfully) cares even less about it than I do. It’s not even that it’s an antiquated practice that would mark me as his property or the loss of my own identity; it’s just a logistical pain in the ass, and also, I like my name, I like my signature, and there’s really no reason to change it.
  • The nice thing is, I can change my mind down the road and there’s no time limit on making that decision. Maybe one day it’ll make sense, but right now? Nah.
  • I didn’t get full feeling back in my toes until 3 days after the big day, but I think those shoes were worth it
  • I wish I’d danced more – and that other people had danced. I’m not a dancer, but our DJ played some really wonderful music that was great to shake your booty to
  • No matter how hard I tried, I barely got to eat anything and that makes me sad because their food is SO GOOD
  • Our friends and family filled the void of not having a wedding planner/day of contact, and they all just managed things without being asked, and made sure everything was coordinated and collected at the end of the night; totally invaluable
  • My one nephew, Ryan, escaped without having a “job” in the wedding and I’m not sure if he cared or if he was relieved, but having all the (other) kids participate was one of my very favorite things
  • It doesn’t matter how long or short your first dance song is, anything over 30 seconds feels like an eternity with people watching, which is why I (of course) felt compelled to grab Carter’s butt – for comedic relief, for my sake as much as anyone else’s
  • I wish I’d given the champagne toast to everyone there, because they’ve all played a part in getting us here. But hindsight is 20/20, which leads me to…
  • All the things that didn’t go EXACTLY as planned or hoped don’t matter, because we’re married, and that’s the point of the whole thing!

It took a village to get us there and to get us through, but we are now, officially, husband and wife, and it’s the weirdest, most wonderful thing in the world.

Weddings are weird.

This entire post promises to be at least a little bit painful for me to even admit, much less dig into, but if I’ve learned nothing else in life, it’s that I fare much better when I dump all my proverbial junk out on the carpet, inspect it, figure it out, and move along with a newfound understanding of self. So with that caveat emptor…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’d never been one to sit around and daydream about the day I got married. The only thing I’d decided at some point was that I’d wear a red wedding dress, but other than that, I had no clue about any of it. At some point, I even gave up that it might ever happen, and I was okay with that. Couldn’t picture it, didn’t matter.

But then real love happened, and with it, a desire to spend the rest of my life with him. Yay! And this is important, because it’s the ultimate desirable outcome of this whole thing. Right? The goal isn’t to see how big, fancy, elaborate, or whatever of a wedding you can throw, although to some it might be, and otherwise it may come a close second. But ideally, the goal is for two people who love each other to get/be married. That’s it.

One weird part is that marriage is a government-managed process. (Other weird parts: all of the traditions involved, and I get that it’s a cultural thing, but questioning WHY certain things are considered integral to a wedding has led me down some strange paths… but I digress.) Somehow, we’ve found ourselves in a place… or shall I say we PUT ourselves in a place where the US Government gets to decide which unions are legal/valid and which aren’t. Don’t even get me started about separation of church and state, which is what it SHOULD come down to, but I digress. Anyway, government with a side of religion, if you’re into that sort of thing; these are what mandate an official marriage in the US.

Seems simple enough. You sign papers, you say some words, you invite friends and family and maybe the church into your union, and off you go. Right?

ENTER EXPECTATIONS, DAYDREAMS, ADVERTISING, AND THE WEDDING INDUSTRY.

Did you know that the average Nashville wedding costs $40,000? FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s what I make in a year. Spending $40K for one day out of your life is just completely unreasonable for someone in my financial bracket (can you really call it a bracket? It’s more like a puddle, or a smear or something.). Why in the hell are people okay with spending that much money for a few hours of their life, when the outcome is what matters most? It’s also really, really easy to do, apparently:

VENUES
I started looking at venues around town for a wedding and reception. I kinda wanted something rustic (oh god, there’s that buzz word that these days means EXPENSIVE, which is the complete opposite of actual rustic). Or something dark and dramatic. Or something with amazing nightscape views. I wanted exposed brick, wood beams, hardwood or concrete floors, flowing sheers, candle light ceremony… seems simple enough, right? Something like one of these (or any of these: http://www.brideswithoutborders.com/inspiration/2014-destination-wedding-trend-4-lanterns-lights):

candlelight candlelight2 candlelight3 unionhill unionhill2

DRESSES
And I started looking at dresses. I found a few pretty good options that were kind of close to what I wanted, although not 100%:

reddress1 reddress2

I did eventually find this one, which is damn near exactly what I was after, except 1) it’s not available anymore, and 2) when it was available, it was $15,000 (thanks a lot, Marchesa). I won’t even pretend that it’s viable, but it sure is pretty. *sigh* So I landed on the idea that I might commission a dress from someone somewhere to get as close to it as possible. Maybe start with one of the above and alter it accordingly to resemble the one below.

reddress3

FOOD and DRINK
And then I started thinking about food. I love food. A LOT. And while I’m a huge fan of things like tacos, BBQ, or other “less expensive” foods, I want fancy foods and drinks. If the day is supposed to be memorable, I want the details to include things that are important to me/us. Right? Quality food is one of those things. I mean things like Korean short ribs, charcuterie plates, lovely wines and champagnes and beer and cocktails… The most extravagant dinner you’ve ever had, with unparalleled wine pairings and perfect confections: I wanted THAT.

GUESTS
I wanted everyone I care about, anyone I’ve ever been close to, to attend. I wanted a huge party filled with laughter, love, dancing, and celebration. The invite list would have easily been over 300 people, and even if just 100 of them came, it would be worth it. Our love is worthy of celebration with everyone we know; we’d revel for hours on end, and everyone would feel like they were part of the greatest love story they’ve ever known.

ET CETERAS
And then there’s all the rest. Photographer. Hair. Makeup. Decorations. Flowers. Music/entertainment. A personalized website, replete with awesome photos and skilled web design. I daydreamed about our first dance and all the music I’d want as a backdrop. I wanted sheers and candles and fire and bare trees and incense. I’d want oversized floral decorations everywhere, the smell intoxicating to anyone within a 50 foot radius. I wanted a movie short to commemorate the event and our adventures. I imagined me in my red dress, C in his suit, doing a dramatic and dark styled photo shoot somewhere on the Oregon coast for our wedding photos. Made up like Dovima, 3 sizes smaller and in the best shape of my life, I’d be the Little Red Riding Hood to his Big Bad Wolf, and the images would be AMAZING…

ENTER: Reality.

And with it… shame, guilt, confusion, insecurity, and a whole host of other weird feelings that have absolutely nothing to do with getting married to your favorite person in the whole world. 

When we had the very important and necessary conversation about budget and what we can reasonably afford, it essentially meant I could choose one of the above options, if I went full boar with it the way I’d envisioned. Otherwise, some things were going to have to adjust or give, and we’d need to determine what it is that truly matters and warrants spending the money.

So I started thinking about it. Who should I invite? Whose feelings would be hurt if I didn’t invite them? Who, in other words, is expendable on this important day? Who should I ask to be in the wedding party? Should I even have a wedding party? Isn’t it too stressful for people to do that, and who would I ask between my good friends and my family?  And that turned into: who would actually want to come in the first place? How good of a friend have I been to anyone, much less these folks? I mean, my family is obligated to show up, but what friends would want to be there? Maybe we should just elope, but then, I want the people I care about to be there, so we should probably have it local. Certainly if I ask people to travel, then I have to make it worth their while, so the venue HAS to be cool, and the food HAS to be good, and there HAS to be plenty of entertainment other than the primary purpose. The photos have to be good, the honeymoon has to be memorable, and I have to lose weight and get in shape so I can be as pretty as I imagine myself to be on my wedding day.

And all of THAT turned into me feeling like a failure because I don’t make enough money to have all the things I want. I can’t afford a top quality photographer ($1,000 with photos) or a makeup artist and hair designer (another $1,000), I can’t afford a venue that costs $5,000 just to rent before you start thinking about food and beverages and decor and entertainment (add another $5-10K), and I can’t afford the dream honeymoon trip. I don’t make enough money to be able to just throw money at the “problem” of getting the wedding and reception I want without having to expend a ton of my own effort (which I’m also not super keen on because I want it to be stress-free for anyone and everyone who isn’t getting paid to stress it), and I’m not willing to put us in debt for it, either. I resent that things cost as much as they do when a wedding is involved, I hate that I got sucked into the belief that any of this needs to happen for me to be happy or enjoy the day, and, most importantly, I hate that I have such weird money issues, wanting things that I can’t afford and feeling some kind of weird entitlement to them, so much so that I get bummed when I can’t have them.

The big thing here, and what appears to be the bottom line, is that for some reason I feel like I’m not ENOUGH. Not good enough without losing weight, not important enough to make people want to travel to attend a huge event in my life without bribing them with the promise of a good time, not a good enough friend to anyone to feel safe that an invite would be accepted, not a good enough partner and not confident enough with my place in C’s life to not feel threatened by the ghosts of his marriage past… this shit is complicated.

At least, I let it get that way.

The truth is, it’s incredibly simple. There is nothing wrong with wanting the experience to be memorable, and I need to quit judging myself for wanting that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel special; I just need to readjust my expectations around where that feeling legitimately comes from. It doesn’t come from people loving the food, or thinking the space is neat and the decorations are lovely. What really matters is bringing together the people who matter to me/us, all of us celebrating the fact that two pretty great humans found each other and have a love as big and bright as the sun.

Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

ThxFriday, All My Valentines Edition.

Vacation time from work (not only allowed but encouraged!); family trips to Mexico (Missouri, that is); the frequent happy contact, with smiles all the while; charming B&B’s and scoring the sweetest suite; finally seeing my nephew proud and in his element; getting gussied up for a Gatsby-themed event; watching the girls navigate their beautiful ways; another day’s buffer for studies and sleep (and recovering from another back outage); a quick little visit to brighten up the night; returning to work to find no fires to fight; a belated and lovely Valentine’s dinner, complete with roses, wine choices, and homemade crème brûlée (talk about swoon); open conversations about all of the things; people who show you who they really, truly are, affirming reservations and hesitations as they show their asses on the way out *punt*; powering through the readings and more 100 percents; when challenging yourself opens new and necessary doors, and when policy analysis actually sparks your interest; getting woke and staying there; warm chocolate chip cookie delivery; the freedom and willingness to speak up and out: asking clarifying questions, being receptive to the answers, and basically just saying what you need; a well-timed “TWSS” that makes a co-worker blush (and snort); the arrival of the weekend, right on time; and the excitement that comes from planning a special-made dinner for a special-made someone in return.