and… something totally positive and rad and happymaking!

Wow, last few posts have been the opposite of celebratory! Let me add some positivity to the mix with this story:

While having the remarkable privilege of attending Outside Lands this year, I found myself at fiftyseven-thirtythree’s clothing booth. I’ve been a fan of this Oakland-based company for years. I bought myself a long-sleeved hooded pullover. I also fell in love with this shirt:

Yes.

I didn’t envision wearing it myself, but I bought it anyway, knowing that at some point, somewhere, the right person would come along and I’d make his or her day. (Probably his since it’s a guy shirt.)

Last night was that day. Our friends in The Blackberry Bushes string band crashed at our house. We chatted sports and movies and books. Julian, the bass player, wore his omnipresent A’s hat. I realized, this was it! So I dashed upstairs, pulled the shirt from its special place, traipsed back down – I should mention Julian is reticent, more likely to quietly contemplate matters in the background while the rest of us are blurting out our thoughts on the pros and cons of watching the latest Netflix series.

So when I held up the shirt and said, “Hey! I’ve been wanting to give this to someone!,” I didn’t expect a rousing display of affection. When he responded with, “I’ve been wanting that shirt!” and “Rickey Henderson’s my favorite player!,” along with Henderson’s Oakland history, this small display of enthusiasm was worth millions. It was a perfect exchange.

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Small triumphs: An exercise in gratitude

It’s good to practice gratitude. Especially on a day like today, when I started off sleepy from last night’s sirens blaring past my motel. Some yelling, too. Pillow not quite firm enough for sleeping on my side, not quite soft enough to tuck under my head when I rolled to my back. Such is the struggle of a middle-class white lady in a cheap Santa Cruz motel. Tonight I anted up an extra $32 for a room at the Quality Inn in Capitola. So far, worth every penny. Quiet with better pillows and a fancy showerhead.

While I am grateful for the small comforts a bit of money can buy – and suffer guilt for even the most modest financial advantages – today’s acknowledging of The Good stems from deeper roots.

1. I have not used Google maps once on this trip. I shouldn’t need to. I’ve been to San Francisco a hundred times and Santa Cruz at least several. But technology has dimmed my once bright sense of direction. On this journey, however, I remembered how Water branches off from Soquel and both cross Ocean, and I can take Capitola Road to get from the Eastside to the Westside and back again.

2. I solved a bouldering problem. Oh, sure, it was the most beginner of the beginner paths, but for someone who has never tied on climbing shoes before today and suffers from sneaky bouts of vertigo, to plant my toes on outcroppings smaller than two of my fingers and launch upward required a perseverance I wasn’t sure I had. First of all, this Santa Cruz climbing gym spilled over with: a.) what I inappropriately refer to as “man candy”: conventionally attractive and ripped young men who apparently lack the fear gene that keeps the rest of us from wandering up cliff faces; b.) women just as fearless, rocking strong glutes, rounded calves and imbibed with a devil-may-care lacksadaisy that gives them an elegance I can only envy.

My daughter and her friends advised me. They encouraged me. They explained key elements of climbing. Keep your arms extended. Carry the weight in your hips. Stay close to the wall. They showed me, repeatedly, how to scale the thing. The first time, every move was awkward and tiring. Step where? Reach what? My ineptitude embarrassed me. I wanted to quit. I considered telling them I’d go run errands and come back. But I didn’t want to be that mom, the one who can’t handle learning in public. I was that kid. I’ve come a long way, learning to surf, taking akido, standing on a stage talking to a crowd as if it’s no big thing. I was not going to give up.

With each successive attempt, the path grew easier. By the seventh time, the initial steps were habit. Sure, I did fall on my ass once. Embarrassing, but K and her friend just laughed and went with it.

In between all this, K scaled hither and yon, all guts and grace, as fearless now as she was poised in the batter’s box at 10 or 14-years-old, waiting for her pitch. I kept trying. The first couple steps, then the first several, became habit. My focus shifted from how far the ground was below me to how close the goal was above. Twice I almost made it. “We should get going,” K finally said. “Let me try one more time,” I announced. I grabbed on to the handholds, stepped up on the starter protrusions. One, two, three, reach, balance, pull, switch feet, reach higher, shift my weight and suddenly I was there, no big deal at all, my right hand planted firmly above the orange finish line, proving I was a person who succeeds. I did not clamber down smoothly – I pushed off, letting myself fall and landing in a crouch, my butt inches from the row of guys perched on the periphery. Elation rippled through me. I’d done it! One microscopic step for mankind, one giant leap for me. I’ve been angry at my body lately, aching knees and sore shoulder, but it came through. Thank you, body. Thank you, mind. Thank you, daughter and friends. The giddiness of physical achievement buoyed me into the evening.

3. I made dinner for K and her friends. The years have provided experience in cooking and enough of a salary to fill a basket at Trader Joe’s. Granted, one can put most any food in front of starving college students and they will be gratified, but my happiness in feeding them is only more so from their appreciation. Besides, I am quiet while I cook, which allows me to listen, which assures me, they are good kids, thoughtful in their opinions, witty in their humor, wry in their perspectives. What a thing to be privy to.

My shoulder aches. My knees hurt. It’s late and I should be sleeping. What a grand day to be blessed with.

Things for which I am grateful

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You know that exercise in which you write down three things you’re grateful for and how they came about?

Here’s today’s:

  1. I was able to write and post a column relating to things ocean on Lost Coast Outpost – and being able to write as part of my job which is protecting the ocean is two things I love smushed into one wonderful way to spend a couple hours. I find myself in this fortunate place due to habitually answering opportunity’s knock, which has involved flinging myself into local media and picking up the reins at Surfrider when needed. Circumstances conspired. I am here.
  2. I experienced my first physical therapy appointment today. What a first world problem, to have to go to PT because my knees have been acting up. Fortunately I have a semi-first world solution: Obamacare aka Covered California aka Anthem Blue Shomething or other. (A real first world solution would be universal built-in health care, but misguided Republicans et al ruined that for America.) Anyway, the good news is, I was able to see a doctor and a physical therapist and this exile from surfing and hiking is theoretically over, although the PT guy did say, “You might just be in pain for the next 40 years.” If I do the things he recommends, however, I might not. And, as he said, “You don’t want to give up the shit that gives you peace of mind.” No, man, I do not. So thank you, Affordable Care Act, for making sure people like me can get our dumb knees fixed so we can do our thing. I should make a donation to an organization working on AIDS or helping Syrian refugees in gratitude.
  3. I caught the post-sunset sky. All I ever wanted was to live at the beach. And I do. The road led to Humboldt. I followed.

insomnia #22 aka “I Want to Know What Love Is”

It worries me that the songs most often stuck in my head are by Foreigner. 1.) I’m not that old. 2.) Foreigner, really? Why not The Cure or Violent Femmes or Concrete Blonde or Elvis Costello or Nirvana or PJ Harvey? Bands that seeped into my adolescence, bands that soundtracked me into adulthood. Bands that meant something to me. I’d welcome something recent – I do listen to new music daily, after all – anything decent, something to reassure me I’m neither obsolete nor lacking in taste.

But, no. It’s all “Jukebox Hero” and “Cold as Ice” and “Urgent” bouncing around in my skull as I’m lying in bed at 3 a.m. unable to sleep. That, as much as the inability to stop the concurrent roil of thoughts, forced me out of bed.

Let’s talk about surfing instead. As ever, I don’t surf enough – there is no enough – but I did get out for a session earlier this week, scored a few fast, head-high rights in a friendly crowd before the wave shut down like our time had run out. (“Put another quarter in!” we joke, those of us familiar with quarter-driven mechanical animal rides.) The wind accelerated as we paddled around in search of that one more, one more, one more that would finally take us in to the beach. I need a new wetsuit (again) and the breeze on top of the cold water had me shivering – by the time I managed to pick off a left, my calfs were cramping and my knees stiff.

But, still. Surfing was better than not surfing. The current never relented and my shoulders ached the next day from all the paddling – “It should be called ‘paddling,’ not ‘surfing,'” one of my friends regularly jokes – and the ache made me happy.

I should read something and I think I will soon. When did the habit become always to turn to the computer? Alison Bechdel’s marvelous Fun Home waits to be finished, New Yorkers pile up alongside Mental Floss and The Atlantic as if our living room is a waiting room, only I never find myself sitting down, killing time until someone is ready for me. Instead, I am the person people are waiting for as I finish the dishes, fold the laundry, pay the bills, complain that the bathroom needs cleaning, announce for the millionth time, “I have so much to do.” Last year, I practiced making Sundays a no-screen, no-car day with the only exception being to look up the swell and/or drive to the waves. It was lovely to lie on the couch, book in hand, or jaunt out to the beach sans phone, and I think I will try it again.

Does everyone obsess about improving themselves? We absorb endless messages about how to be smarter, happier, more successful. Thinner. (Always thinner.) In between the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently” and “8 Facts Will Make You More Productive” (both of which I have bookmarked, along with “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 a.m.” and “5 Scientific Secrets to High Performance“) – in between these manifestos on How To Be Better are treatises on the importance of self-acceptance. I often wonder at what point we’re allowed to stop striving and say instead, “Look, this is how I am.”

Because I know a lot of people who wear their faults without regret, embrace their curmudgeonly or messy selves or, more likely, just get on with the business of living as if part of them isn’t hovering above, watching and judging their behavior without pause. Oblivion to one’s effect on others has drawbacks, but sometimes I would appreciate a break from so much worry.

I was reading an advice column – partly because I enjoy advice and good writing, and partly because I’m a human who does things and has people, so I can usually relate in some way to what’s happening (unless it’s Savage Love, which, perhaps sadly, offers problems more exciting than my own) – when a line in a letter from a frustrated former employee regarding an open position at her prior workplace resonated: “I don’t think I actually want the job; I’m well aware of the frustrations and challenges of that particular role. What I want is for them to want me.”

Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even if I don’t want to come to your party, I will be hurt if you don’t invite me.

And then it was as columnist Heather Havrilesky climbed into my brain with her response:

“…So you wanted someone to show you that they noticed all of this hard work. You wanted to feel wanted. Instead, they said ‘Sorry, we just can’t promote you.’ Here’s what they DIDN’T say: ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That’s what you HEARD, but that’s not what they actually said.

“…And maybe you’ve never seen a therapist. Maybe… you return to old slights as if there’s some important mystery to be solved there, as if the more you dig up buried disappointments, the more you’ll learn about what you did wrong. You figure you fucked up something, or maybe there’s something off about the people involved, and if you look really hard at the mess you left behind, you might figure it all out.

“…I will work tirelessly to be understood. I will explain and re-explain. And at some level, I am absolutely certain that, with enough explaining, I will be understood and embraced—at long last!”

That last one, seriously. My friends laugh (at least I hope they laugh) about how prone I am to following up conversations with emails elaborating on “What I actually meant in case I wasn’t clear” or “I didn’t mean to be a jerk when I said such-and-such.” Havrilesky’s lengthy response could have been aimed at – or written by – me. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because I’m not lacking in validation or (I think) confidence. But we take the good feedback for granted sometimes, weight the criticism as if it means more, then spend our efforts trying to prove ourselves to the wrong people. (Please note how I switched to third person there. Because it’s not just me… right?)

Which is why the advice in the final paragraph should be taken to heart:

“Some workplaces, some bosses, some friends, some relatives, some exes will never want you, and will never appreciate all of the amazing qualities you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with you. Forget them. Build those parts of you that make you feel peaceful and accepting and satisfied and soft and vulnerable. Make a religion out of letting go. You do great work, and everyone knows it. Don’t fixate on the indifferent. Keep yourself surrounded by people who look you in the eye, listen closely, and really seem interested in you as a person. Try to do the same for your friends. Stop working so goddamn hard for once in your life. You are already good enough.”

Look, this is how I am.

 

 

Life’s obvious lessons or it’s amazing what you can get done when…

I’m writing because I told myself to write this morning. After all, I’m between full-time gigs and was supposed to use January and February to 1.) finish my novel; 2.) surf every day; 3.) whip the yard and garden into shape; 4.) do all the house projects that I’ve been too busy to do while working 40-plus hours per week. And read and work out and go for hikes and make sure I’m carving out enough family time and couple time and maybe take that tango class we’ve been promising ourselves we’d take for years.

Yeah, sometimes I tend to overestimate my ability to accomplish – although to be fair, the days when I am disciplined about my time often end with a small glow of satisfaction warming my brain. One of my favorite scenes in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues was when Denzel Washington’s character, Bleek Gilliam, explains to one of his girlfriends that you have to do the same thing at the same time each day because that’s how shit gets done. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) Less exciting forms of research reinforce that concept: Routine is good for accomplishment.

The other key, courtesy of my friend Niki Bezzant and a mantra I’ve uttered approximately one gazillion times over the past decade (including on this blog, I’m sure), is this: “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t arse around.” (Or as we say in America, “… when you don’t fuck around.”)

So here I am, writing because I told myself I should write first thing in the morning while the house is quiet and the sky is too dark for a surf adventure. Sure, I’m running behind already – the sun came up an hour ago – and the house’s silence has been broken by my husband clomping downstairs and into the kitchen where he’s putting water on for coffee – the water whooshes out of the faucet, the gas clicks on, the kettle clanks down, the flame whooshes to life like I wish my imagination would. Nonetheless, I persevere. (If you’re reading this, I can’t promise it will get any better. Please feel free to go admire my lovely rainbow photo on Facebook instead – none of the thousand or so words I will write here will come close to matching the beauty of that moment. If only perfect prose was as easy to stumble upon as the right combination of sun and rain.)

Now my husband is blowing his nose and I want to kill him. It is hell being married to a writer. Or a wannabe writer. Or maybe just me.

What I thought I would write about going in was transition. And value. Transition because the past several months have encompassed so much change and value because that was the concurrent theme.

I’m now wondering if I can lift the rest of the post up from the preceding deadening sentence.

It’s not that I didn’t know the job would come to an end. But my coworker and I had just found out our funders planned to continue supporting our work. We’d high-fived at a conference in Southern California – “Havin’ a job! Yeah!” – which made the call from my boss a week later surprising. Regret tinged her voice as she went down the list of talking points concerning the organizational layoffs, which included the elimination of my position (and my coworker’s). She sounded sad enough that I made a joke in an attempt to reassure her I was okay. After we hung up, tears came. This job had been the palace ball and I’d been Cinderella – except, this being real life, no Prince Charming would be swooping in to collect me (and pay my bills) after the fact*. On the upside, I had six months to figure out a next step. On the downside, even when you know it’s not personal, being told you’re no longer valuable enough to the organization to be kept on can mess up a person’s self-perception.

Looking outside of Humboldt reinforced what I already knew: I have neither the educational background nor the big world experience to score a serious job. This triggered a lot of what-the-hell-have-I-done-with-my-life thinking. For a while I couldn’t imagine being hired by anyone for anything. Maybe waitressing. At some point, I’m embarrassed to say, a certain bitterness settled in. I am good at some things, damn it. But, my thinking went, those things aren’t valued by the stupid people in this stupid world that we live in. Why isn’t the ability to put words together in a semi-pleasing way with a minimum of typos a job that pays a living wage? Why isn’t being able to get along and find commonality with all different folks an existing job I could apply for? Why do incompetent douchebaggery types still have jobs and I don’t? How come people don’t come courting me if I’m as rich in talent as my performance reviews – and supportive friends – suggest?

This is not a productive way to think – and I am all about productive – but pulling up from the self-esteem nosedive isn’t easy. Because some truth exists to it, right? If the question asked is, “Why don’t people want me?” then potential answers inevitably include, “Because you suck.” This is where I started getting hung up on value, predominantly my own worth (as measured by what people were willing to pay me to do), but also what I elevate to importance in my own life and how that relates to the greater world.

As all this was happening, my youngest kid graduated high school, my middle kid moved away to Santa Cruz, my oldest continued her own adult life down in Long Beach. With only one kid in the house, my husband and I took over the upstairs – the master bedroom and a small room I’ve turned into a walk-in closet/project space. Although I worry as much (or more) than ever, our hands-on parenting days are over. For a couple that never lived together before having kids, this new chapter is without precedent and raises a whole bunch of questions. If parenting is inherently valuable and we’ve focused on that to the detriment of our careers, what happens now? Who will we be without parental obligations defining us? How will we relate to each other without the children’s needs being the center around which we revolved? With the breathing room to consider the future, what did we see? And, more importantly, did we see it together?

Here are some things I learned, in no particular order because time is short and the keyboard battery is low:

  • You can’t make people value you. Your kids, your coworkers, the people you wish would hire you, the people you wish would love you. All you can do is do what you love doing, work hard, strive to do it well. Maybe someone will pay you to do this thing for a living someday. Maybe someone you look up to will turn to you and say, “Hey, this is real good.” But you have to do it for the love of doing it, because you believe in the fundamental value of what you’re doing. If you build it, they might come – but if they don’t, you sure as hell better enjoy stretching out in the sunshine admiring the clear, blue sky.
  • Life isn’t fair – hardly a new concept, sure, but still, a hard one to swallow when you’re considering unemployment while people who are obviously far more horrible than you are whistling while they work. The problem with brooding on the world’s unfairness is twofold: you might forget all the ways in which you yourself have been lucky and you put yourself at risk for turning into a grudge-bearing asshole. I’ve been guilty on both counts in the past. (But I have SO MUCH character at this point!)
  • Booze does not help. It’s the worst in fact.
  • How to get over yourself: Express appreciation, daily, to people you love and admire, especially those who’ve tolerated your self-pitying behavior. Distract yourself from freaking out about your life by engaging in it. Take the goddamn tango class with your spouse already. Invite those gracious, kind, fun friends of yours over for brunch. Read books that take your brain to another place. Go new places, whether restaurants or hiking trails, together or alone. Get the fuck away from the computer.
  • Take more walks on the beach and fling yourself more often into the ocean (metaphorically if necessary). Nothing – and I mean nothing – like being out in the fresh air in this place of beauty to give you perspective and kick you into a more positive gear. Bitter? Insecure? Hike or bike until your legs give out. Rent a kayak and paddle the hell out of the bay. Whatever. Push yourself physically until your mind turns that corner.

Which is a good note upon which to end. It’s another (drought-riddled) glorious day out there and I’ve got a beach calling.

*The way things went, the folks who fund my conservation work still wanted to fund it, enabling me to find a job with a different environmental organization, thus making them a suitable stand-in for the prince. Rejoicing commenced.

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

If I were to make a list of things I’d most like to leave behind in 2013, insomnia would be up there. I blame the evening’s red wine this time, but the cause could just as easily be falling asleep too early with too much on my mind. It’s a horrible thing, thinking.

My arsenal of sleep aids – herbal teas and tonics, Tylenol PM, relaxation apps – are failing to do the trick tonight. Rather than lie in bed kicking my husband every time he nears snoring, I’m here in front of the computer, writing.

It seemed potentially more productive. New Year’s Eve. Why not take stock?

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January: Our sweet dog died, my younger daughter was detained in London en route to Ireland, I wrote my first Five Things, and a friend and I attended the Presidential inauguration.

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February: My older daughter turned 23, my husband and I relived the ’90s by seeing Soundgarden in Oakland’s Fox Theater, I moved into The Link and I went on an epic surf-work trip to Central Cali, the first of many excursions I’d take with my dear friend Casey.

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March: Spent another week along the central coast, my younger daughter turned 19 and I wrote my first (and so far only) cover story for the North Coast Journal.

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April: My first Five Things column ran in the NCJ, I tripped to Sacramento and Santa Cruz, and I helped coordinate a memorial service and paddle out for John “Moose” Mason, a man whose sudden death brought forth such beautiful tribute from so many people that I found myself thinking, “We should all be so loved” – and that we should all be so kind and good as Moose.

May: Some idiots filming an ad at Moonstone high-centered a Dodge truck on a rock, launching me into Surfrider mode and ending with me being named a “Humboldtian of the Week” on Facebook, a work trip took me to D.C., we attended my fabulous brother’s fabulous wedding in San Francisco, where I stayed on for a conference after – four hotels in 10 days.

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June: Traveled to Long Beach for work and some time with my older daughter, stepped in as the NCJ’s music columnist, spent Summer Solstice at Shelter Cove, wrote about the dead whale that washed up on my beach and was given a six-month layoff heads up.

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July: Played cornhole and bocce ball for the first times and failed at neither, took a vacation to Seattle that included a whale watching tour through the Puget Sound and a stop in Portland on the way back that included visiting a friend with whom I shared a room when we were 18 – and all the required reminiscing that implies, and wrote my favorite Five Things so far.

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August: Threw a most excellent birthday party for my husband’s 50th, was hired on to do part-time outreach for Humboldt Baykeeper and moved my younger daughter to Santa Cruz.

September: Played a small role in Humboldt Made’s big premier, guested on Sherae O’Shaughnessy’s Late Night gig, traveled with Casey to San Diego for the annual Surfrider conference, helped cover the arrest of alleged crossbow killers in Manila, helped clean up around a homeless camp for Coastal Cleanup Day and wrote about it.

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October: My kickball team raised $2,697 for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and came in second in the annual tournament, Casey and Kj joined me for my second excursion to a foreign country, this one a long-anticipated trip to Manzanillo, Mexico, where we spent six days surfing, swimming, reading, drinking and eating tacos – best vacation ever – followed by a closer-to-home excursion to track gray whales and see humpbacks, a transcendent experience.

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November: My son turned 18, my friend Grant and I took off to New York for a week, where I stayed with my brother and his wife and celebrated my own birthday – 44! – at The Comedy Cellar, and upon returning home, my husband and I moved into the upstairs master bedroom after 11 years of downstairs living.

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December: Held what was likely my favorite Ocean Night ever, wrapped up my job with Ocean Conservancy, made plans for a next chapter with the Northcoast Environmental Center, tripped down to Santa Cruz to visit our younger daughter, reminisced about a time I almost died, and trekked up to Crescent City for an especially memorable surf safari due to cramming five people in a Honda CRV, finding fun waves under endless sunshine, a rescue by me of a person drifting out to sea, stinky sea lions, piles of fish and chips and hours of excellent conversation.

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In between and throughout all that, a million photos of sunsets, sunrises and various bodies of water. Also, surfing. My wonderful writers’ group. Parties. Music. Books. Movies. Food. The requisite ups-and-downs and various heartbreaks involved in being a human people who spends time with people. Most importantly, a ton of love and good best friends. I aim to transform this list of things done into something larger and life-useful at some point, but for now, what a reminder that I am a lucky, lucky girl.

So, 2013, yada yada yada, Mexico

It’s been a while.

Between Facebook and once again writing regularly for the North Coast Journal, I don’t turn here as often as I once did. And since my children have – for the most part – grown too old to use as fodder and since I am no longer chronicling my surf sessions, well, what would I write about?

It’s been quite a year.

But aren’t all years? Not one year of my life has passed after which I thought, Oh, wow, what a nice, dull time. This one started with our wonderful yellow mutt reaching the end of her 14 years. The following month marked the termination of a decade-long friendship. An important family relationship turned inexplicably distant. My youngest child graduated from high school, the middle one moved on to Santa Cruz and college. In June, I received notice that my beloved job will officially cease to exist as of Dec. 31. Another friendship fell apart. The endodontist says I need two root canals and the dentist found nine cavities in my son’s mouth and I have no idea how I’m going to take care of all this when the insurance only covers a percentage in the first place and time before losing what little coverage I have is running out.

Insert obligatory #firstworldproblems acknowledgment.

Of course, a stream of good things happened, too – they always do, preventing me from sinking too far into self-pity. Foremost, my children are alive and relatively well. I reconnected with old friends during one visit to Long Beach, another to Portland and yet another to San Diego. We reminisced, as people do, about the crazy things we did – that trip to Ensenada where she ended up in the closet with my future husband’s roommate and I broke the top off a Cherry 7Up bottle in my desperation to quench my hangover-induced thirst. That time I was super stoned and pulled what I thought were eyedrops out of my purse, but it was lotion and I didn’t realize it until I’d squeezed globs on top of both eyeballs – a story that apparently never gets old in the retelling. Those days we stayed past close in the bar, too blown away by some great band that had played to stop drinking – or because we needed to vent about how shitty the band was and how annoying the NA crowd could be with their ceaseless demands for coffee refills and emptied ashtrays.

Despite differing political and social views, visits with family members were lovely and free of debate. My previous writers’ group stopped meeting years ago due to the demands of children, husbands, jobs, life, but the women who made it up continue to be on the other end of late night/early morning emails most notable for being pleas of Help! How do I cope with this crisis? How do I get through another day fraught with too much to do and people going nuts? They always have answers – or for the unanswerable, comfort. I needed a lot of that this year. My new writers’ group delights me. Who am I to deserve such an abundance of smart, kind, funny, creative people populating my world?

From the people I work with – at all my various endeavors – to the people who showed up for my husband’s ridiculously fun 50th birthday, I am, for lack of a less hackneyed word, blessed. (Thoughts on friendship distilled here.) My job, albeit ending, has provided a leg up in the world and experiences I never expected: Taiwan, for example, adventures in D.C., even more intimate knowledge of our coastline, a hand in creating concrete protection for it. Health care. Experiencing what being able to pay one’s bills is like. I’ll miss it desperately, sure, but future opportunities are promising and for the time being I’m still privileged to write, occasionally, for both the Lost Coast Outpost and the NCJ. Those days when keeping all the magic going threatens to send me sobbing into anxiety-riddled nervous breakdown, I can still walk out my front door to the beach. Life is so very much work and yet continually proves to be worth it.

And I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow.

This trip will be only my second out of the country (not counting ill-fated teenage trips to Baja), made possible by the generosity of a friend with a house there and judicious use of frequent flyer miles. To say I’m excited is to say a hummingbird is bit of a speedy creature – my heart is beating faster than those wings with anticipation. I wanted my husband to come so that we could have a shared adventure, celebrate this dawning new phase of our lives in which our children are grown, but alas, his desire to avoid flying supersedes his desire to trip along with me to exotic locales. The consolation option is no less wonderful, however – lieu of romance, I have two of my best girlfriends accompanying me, both so easygoing that my only concern is now I’m in danger of being the uptight one. I’ve wanted to travel forever. And I’m leaving both cell phone and laptop behind, so ready to disconnect that keeping focus through the day seems nearly impossible. I have a stack of books. Oh, to read novels again!

I fear I’m too happy about this.

Sometimes I’m compelled to reiterate, it’s not easy, this life. It’s much easier now that I’m not working 60 hours a week between two jobs that still didn’t pay enough to cover life’s expenses, fun as they were. A living wage directly improves one’s world, no question. But a lot of struggling and stress existed between finding myself pregnant at 19 and finding myself landing a dream job 20 years later. (I’m always finding myself!) Even under ideal circumstances, raising children challenges the most patient of adults. Our circumstances were far from ideal, lacking in both family support and cash, our son diagnosed with an as-yet incurable disease. And I am not patient. But – to get hackneyed again – love keeps getting us through.

So I can’t write about my kids very much because they’re adults or very nearly. (Also – disclaimer – because I hope to contribute a column to the NCJ’s new “Offsprung” series, so I can’t go on too much about how, despite what a vast number of well-intentioned people say, having adult children does not, in fact, make a parent “done.”) The nearly-adult status of my son also means I can’t write about my son’s diabetes like I used to. For the record, it’s still scary. Scarier in some ways because he’s opted to take on more responsibility for his care. He now inserts his own sets, checks his blood sugar on his own even in the early morning hours. I have not stuck a needle in the kid for months. Hardly a thing to miss – but like all aspects of letting go of controlling a child’s life, one that brings anxiety along with the relief. Who will take care of him if not me?

And since, for the first time since I began surfing, I’ve stopped counting my yearly surf sessions, I have no obligation to chronicle them here – by permitting myself the freedom from tracking, I inadvertently did away with a steady writing prompt. Alas. I have surfed and not surfed. Weeks pass and I freak out and suddenly I’m zipping down the spit, truck loaded, blood racing, my need to be in the water as primal as hunger. I don’t do things for a while and then worry I’ve forgotten how to do them. Surf. Make pancakes. Read. Write a blog post.

Thanks for bearing with me.

5 Things to Know Before You Go Out Dancing

1. What do you mean, you don’t go out dancing? That’s crazy! Dancing is fun, fun, fun! And good for you – bumps up the ol’heartrate, increases physical endurance and provides the social contact necessary for maintaining a positive outlook in this messed-up world. If you’re a guy, know this: women prefer a man who can get his groove on. (I think we all know why that’s true, but just in case, allow George Bernard Shaw to explain, “Dancing: The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.” Mmmhmm!)

2. However, you men people, also know this: No one wants your creepy ass rubbing up against her thigh, butt or any other body part. What makes you have a creepy ass,  you ask? Because you’re rubbing up against some woman who does not want you to do that! No means no means no and a woman is far more likely to like you if you stay on the side of fun that includes respect. Having to point this out seems ridiculous, but I spent part of last month’s 100mph Soul Party running interference between some skeevy dude and my girlfriends.

3. Also in the stating-the-obvious column: wear shoes you can wear all night long. No, not your gym shoes – unless you’re going to bust out your best Electric Boogaloo moves – because sexy is good, but if you’ve strapped in and your pinky toes are going numb before you’ve even finished applying your lipstick, that’s not a good sign. Dazzle people with your confidence and they’ll never notice what’s on your feet.

4. The best dance parties aren’t always the most popular ones. Sold out shows mean wall-to-wall people, which means you can’t move and also that you’ve become a C & C Sweat Factory. Weeknights offer more than you might think: for example, you can get your skank on this Monday at the Jam; rock out to some country soul on Tuesday at Hum Brews; Wednesday, Nocturnum goes all Whomp Whomp with “Dubstep/Dnb/Glitch/HipHop/BadassBassDriven/LazerFilled/WaistMotivating/FootTapping”; Cherae Heights throws back to the ’80s and ’90s on Thursday; you’ve got barn dancin’ at the Bayside Grange on Friday, where they will even teach you to dance; and Saturday’s list of body-moving possibilities presents you with so much choice you might stress out about which dance party to attend! But you know what’s a great antidote to stress? Dancing! You can also rally a bunch of friends and take over any place with floor space and a decent jukebox. Hell, have a slumber party and Spotify up all your old faves – Madonna’s “Physical Attraction” and AC/DC’s “TNT” being two on my all-time list.

5. Don’t overdo the booze. You might think you need to get drunk to loosen up, but the difference between dancing and flailing can often be traced back to an unfortunate decision to answer, “Yeah! I’ll have another!” Figure out the pace that works to keep you happy on the floor without being on the floor and stick to it. Drink lots of water! Don’t do shots. (In fact, unless you’re toasting the dead, don’t ever do shots.)

Bonus: Still unsure? Find some inspiration listening to Mike Dronkers’ Midday Dance Party every Friday at noon on KHUM 104.3/104.7. You can bop around the office or in the privacy of your own home! If you absolutely need to take some lessons first – or you’re ready to step up to actual steps – you’re in luck! We live somewhere people love to dance! Here’s a beginning look at what’s offered, but check out other publications and flyers around town.

An exercise in gratitude

One night last week, I found myself setting the alarm for 12:30 a.m., then 1:30, then 2:30, then 3:30, then 5:30 a.m. Nick’s blood sugar hovered in the 300s despite my continued dosages of insulin, refusing to drop into normal range until that last 5:30 check. Why does this tend to happen throughout the night instead of the day? I don’t know. I was too tired to ask, “Why?” at the time. I am often too tired to ask, “Why?” these days; I just want to figure out, “How?” How can I resolve his blood sugar problems? Why something isn’t working is only as relevant as how knowing the answer will help me fix it. I am a carpenter these days, not a philosopher.

(I wish I was a carpenter – what a lovely, practical skill to have.)

The following day I was, of course, exhausted. Sometimes rallying to face all that needs to be done between 6 a.m. and midnight challenges me more than I’d like to admit. In my daydreams, I waltz through the mornings, salsa through lunchtime, samba across the evening and tango into the night.

(I wish I knew all those dances – what an exquisite way to live.)

Reality finds me more often stumbling, tripping over my words and slumping at my desk. I confess, I felt a little sorry for myself. Life felt too heavy. I hadn’t even had a drink and still I just wanted to lie down on the nearest floor and say, “OK, I give.” But as always, in my stupid, brilliant, complicated, straightforward life, the good happenings continue to twist around the bad, impossible to separate or ignore. So even as I spend another night awake at 3:30 a.m. because I needed to check Nick’s blood sugar, which was high, again, and because while checking him, he complained that his pump kept beeping because the battery was low, so I had to go find a spare battery in the truck, where I keep some emergency supplies, and throughout all this, my poor old dog lies on the floor without getting up because her legs went out yesterday and she’s not getting past it despite my hopes that she might just be really, really worn out from walking to the beach, and now I am likely going to have to make the call to have a vet come out and end her life because that would be the right thing to do if she can’t walk (right?) and I’m really not ready for that because she’s so sweet and I didn’t pet her enough or walk her enough and fuck, I was trying to get to the counting-my-blessings part of this.

Right, blessings. Despite all the above and other, less tragic, bad news, in the last week, I’ve walked out from my house four times to watch the sun, all fiery orange and ringed with red, settle into the blue-black ocean. Each time, the fact that I can walk from my house to this experience stuns me as much as the gold glittering from the horizon to the sand as the sun balances on the edge of the world.

I am awed. And in this same span of time, I’m hiked out from my house twice to surf and once to play Frisbee with Bobby and Nick on an afternoon so clear, windless and balmy I’d longed to transport everyone I loved to the water’s edge so they, too, could bask in the beauty. We winged the Frisbee around like we’ve done a hundred times and I could see our lives together stretch back, stitched together by perfect moments like these. I remembered a similar afternoon years ago – seven? eight? – with Nick zipping across the low-tide shallows on a skimboard as Sandy galloped alongside.

I still have a job I love, one that pays enough to cover the bills and a little more, keeps my family in health benefits. I have at least a half-dozen people I believe I can tell anything to and will still be loved, despite sometimes saying and doing stupid things. I had lunch with one of these fabulous people, last Tuesday, sitting outside at Café Nooner, eating my favorite sandwich in the sunshine. I took two others surfing in Crescent City yesterday, the only place on the entire North Coast that wasn’t sunny, where the wind stayed onshore despite predictions of off-, and they graced me by being not only good sports about the weather, but genuinely having fun. Even with all the fighting my family does, I never feel unloved. My body holds up. My husband finds me beautiful. His garden bursts with flowers and veggies, the backyard a testament to his devotion. The calendar attests to good times to come.

I worry about the dog, about Nick, about our daughters. Please let Sandy not suffer. Please let the children be happy and healthy and outlive me. I make my to-do lists each day, hopeful that if I get everything checked off, life will proceed in the best possible way. I never quite get there. Some nights remain particularly long, some days still bring bad news. In the midst of it all, however, some joy bubbles up. Good things happen. Exhausted as I may be, I can never completely despair.

And for that, I am grateful.

Parenting gets easier? Then why am I still freaking out?

It started when Chelsea turned 16 and people said how excited I must be for her to drive. We were in the thick of a challenging adolescence and at the time I worked at the Arcata Eye newspaper, which meant I saw every CHP collision report come through the fax machine. The knowledge that cars were death machines permeated my every work day. Facing the emotional wallop of raising an angry teenager left me raw and on edge nightly. The idea of my child behind the wheel was not exciting – it was horrifying. That so many people imagined otherwise made me realize how incomprehensible one person’s life can sometimes be to others. How even such a common experience as raising kids does not always translate to having something in common with other parents. That the greatest difference between having kids or not is the amount of fear that lives lodged in your brain, throat, heart, gut.

Of course, I tend to worry. Not everyone does. Some people are born with, or cultivate, this trust that God, the universe or some other benevolent force will “watch out” for their children. I assume they sleep well at night. I’ve considered turning to religion if it would help alleviate my insomnia.

Now that Kaylee’s 18 and graduated from high school, and Nick’s launching into his senior year, Bobby and I get a lot of, “Hey, you’re almost done!” Which I understand – and certainly, some things are easier. I am mostly confident that none of my children will stick keys into an electrical socket or choke on grapes if they’re not cut carefully into halves. I’m even mostly confident they’ll go off into the world and thrive. But this assumption that they’re grown and therefore I have less to worry about confuses me.

I do not feel less worried.

What I do feel is more helpless – my friend describes the shift as, “You spend all these years as their manager and then they fire you. The best you can hope for is to be hired as a consultant.” There’s an accompanying awareness that this is it. These years were the time I had to do things right and make up for things I did wrong. It’s too late to fix my parenting mistakes, which is so unfair because I finally have enough experience to raise children.

I would have lost my temper less, for example. So little sleep, so much stress, often translated into me snapping at the kids above and beyond what could have been called a “reasonable” amount. I don’t know where more sleep would’ve come from, but maybe I could have found ways to offset some of life’s seemingly relentless pressures.

Lack of money, for example. If I could redo things, this would be a big one. Not that I would’ve traded having jobs that allowed me to spend the most time with my kids, but I would have had a far better grasp on managing my money. I would have liked to be one of those people who managed to save a shocking amount of cash while working two waitressing jobs and never letting her kids go without. (I would still like to be one of those people who manages to save a shocking amount of cash.) You could’ve read about me in O magazine. I would’ve maintained a money tips website for several years, but decided to retire once all the kids were grown. Bobby and I would be planning our Costa Rican lifestyle about now.

(Note use of humor as a coping mechanism. I’m still trying to figure out the path connecting my daily actions to my dreams.)

The other, biggest, thing I’d fix is, I would’ve addressed and resolved the conflicts between Bobby and I sooner and more often. Becoming a mom, wife and adult simultaneously wasn’t easy; I was 20 when Chelsea was born, 21 when Bobby and I finally moved into the same place, 22 when we married. While I strongly reject all notions that only older, well-off women should have kids, I can’t deny being young and broke is inherently more challenging.

I was lucky – Bobby’s commitment to our family has never wavered – but being in love isn’t the same as being prepared. And I’m lousy at conflict, preferring to let things build up until something triggers a total freak out. I’d rather flee than fight. A lot of years were wasted in unnecessary unhappiness because I didn’t know how to fix what ailed us and was intimidated by the hard work and seeming impossibility of finding a solution. We still created many moments of joy with the children, but my dream of home always being a haven didn’t survive intact. I regret that. I know all families have their drama, but I wish I’d known how to spare mine from the amount of dysfunction I allowed to happen.

(This is the part where I note that if one compares dysfunction in families, we’re not too far off from the norm. I do not mean to imply otherwise. I’m only saying some things could’ve been better and I wish I’d been able and willing to make the changes then.)

Fortunately, none of the damage has been irreparable. Yet. But our children are always our children and with the pride and relief their independence brings comes whole new forms of heartache. The world may not be nice to them. In fact, I know it’s indifferent. Bad things happen all the time. But good stuff, too! I may not trust in the universe, but I muster faith that they’ll create their place in it. And hope the place they make brings them more happiness than sorrow.

I’m speaking in generalities now, which pains me as a writer even if some comfort is offered my mothering side.

Maybe I was wrong earlier. Maybe I’ll never have enough experience to have this raising kids thing figured out.

 

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