49 to Fifty

Here I sit in the wake of my 48th year. It’s been a good one, but change is also good (and necessary), and I’ve felt myself straining against the chains that bind for some time now. I think it explains the blog; to tell my story in a deeper, fuller way as I learn and grow.

In an effort to develop — from a darkroom negative into a dazzling Kodachrome positive — I’ve identified 49 area of challenge/goodwill/improvement.

I’m ready to take on a lot. Not sure I’ll knock all 49 out of the park, but I’ve done my due diligence. I’ve set reminders on my phone, bought supplies, signed up for classes, etc. I’ve included in the list things I love, things I hate, and things I genuinely believe will lead me to be a better, happier person. And isn’t that always the goal?

I am Sir Edmund, and this list is my Everest:

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  1. Lose 30 pounds
  2. Book a trip to South America (to finally collect our 6th continent)
  3. Purchase an original piece of art
  4. Sharpen photography skills via classes and/or tutorials
  5. Do something kind for someone I don’t particularly like (character building!)
  6. Write a theoretical letter to someone monthly, post them here
  7. Update Flickr acct with all our travel photos (not done since 2014)
  8. Submit a piece of writing for publication consideration
  9. Book a trip for my 50th birthday – turn 50 somewhere exciting & new
  10. Each day look in the mirror and say, “I don’t give up on myself” – and mean it
  11. Volunteer for a cause I care about
  12. Force myself onto the treadmill at least 4x/week (unless ill or traveling)
  13. Write for 30 minutes at least 4x/week – set calendar reminder
  14. Random act of kindness for someone every month
  15. Get eyes examined/glasses for dreaded presbyopia
  16. Donate leather frocks (leather over 50, unless you’re Ann Richards, is just sad)
  17. Complete a mini master bath reno
  18. Redo the spare bedroom/office
  19. Switch from regular soda to diet (boo!)
  20. Monthly, write down the highlights (both good & bad) that occurred
  21. Declutter the basement
  22. Organize the garage
  23. Update our will
  24. Visit the Philadelphia museum of art
  25. Visit the museum of fine arts in Boston
  26. Greatly reduce my (over)use of the quotative “like”
  27. Work on letting go of old grudges #brian
  28. Attempt to ‘chunky knit’ a blanket
  29. Take a beginner’s course in drawing
  30. Work on learning a 2nd language – French
  31. Cultivate new friendships
  32. Stop rage-tweeting the president
  33. Take a MOOC
  34. Have a photo shoot of the dogs (they often get overlooked)
  35. Declutter the kitchen
  36. Give someone a random compliment – do this weekly
  37. Compile a bucket list for the decade of my fifties
  38. Finally read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho to see what the hype’s about
  39. Make a snowman next time it snows (I’ve never done it)
  40. Surprise family with a last minute trip
  41. Either sell or donate backlog of clothes taking up room in closets
  42. Spend a day being a tourist in Baltimore
  43. Get at least 11,000 steps at least 5 days per week (unless ill or traveling)
  44. Work on flexibility with stretches/yoga training three times a week
  45. Read more (it’s fallen by the wayside recently)
  46. Declutter house/inbox/brain
  47. Amp up retiremant savings/planning
  48. Do a relationship building activity w/Jim once a week
  49. Buy an art book monthly featuring a different master: read, learn, commit to memory

….may the odds be ever in my favor

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Summertime Blues

Dear Ryan,

I’m missing you a lot today. Well, that implies I don’t miss you every day, which I do. But today it’s hitting a little harder I suppose. Maybe it’s the time of year? I know how much you love summer, with its sandy beaches, ice-cream-sticky fingers, and long, lazy nights fading into unclouded & radiant mornings.

Maybe it’s the fact that both your sisters were home last night talking about relationships and school and where the future might take them. And as I sat and smiled and thought about how incredible they both are, I found myself buckling under the weight of missing you.

Grief is like that, you know? Some days it’s as light as a feather, others it feels like a two-ton elephant sitting right on your chest.  And I don’t say this to denounce, diminish or cast aside the sadness – because to feel is to remember, and I never want to forget you.

I just wish you’d been here last night.

In my mind’s eye, I see the three of you lounging around the living room, speaking over each other and (to great comic effect) competing for attention. I see good natured ribbing along with a healthy dose of genuine sibling advice and support being offered and accepted. I see three gentle spirits and bright shining stars rotating within my orbit, and I am temporarily happy and content. Then I remember you’re gone.

But you’re still a part of the big picture, I know. You’re my big picture and you always will be. I like to think of you as endless and transcendent now: a part of time, space, and matter. Your orbit is bigger; your star shines brighter, and your gentle spirit is finally at peace with everything around it.

Rest easy, sweet boy.

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Love Forever,

Mom

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Random Thought of the Day #1

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I don’t know what sort of Sapphic nightmare landscape vaginas you people have been looking at, but Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings aren’t all that genitalia-ish to me.

Now Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde — that’s a vagina.

 

 

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Kwing-Kwuh-Juh-WTF?

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In a little over three weeks I’ll turn FORTY-NINE years old.

What. The. Fuck.

I remember in my teens thinking 35 was old. And by 50 you were soaking your teeth in a glass nightly and relieving yourself into Depends Undergarments more often than not. Then I turned twenty and thought “Okay… maybe 45 is old? Either way, I’ve got plenty of time.”

Then came my thirties, with divorce/remarriage/children in school/new baby on the way, and I didn’t have time to dwell on trivial things like when youth fades and old age sets in.

So far in my forties, it’s been a game of “I’m still in my early-late forties, surely I don’t need to worry about the dreaded 5-0(shit) just yet?” But somehow all the same, here we are — and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it.

Here are ten things I thought I’d have accomplished by now:

  1. Successfully meditating (I usually just fall asleep)
  2. Finding ways around ending sentences with prepositions (see above)
  3. Having my shit together juuust enough so I don’t feel inferior to perfect PTA mom types
  4. Curbing my enthusiasm for mocking perfect PTA mom types
  5. Finally giving up on convincing myself (and everyone else) that I like sushi
  6. Writing my first (last, only?) novel
  7. Learning to play the piano/wolf whistle/french braid hair/evenly apply winged eyeliner
  8. Finally believing I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me
  9. Learning to sip red wine without making a cringy-face (seriously– it’s nasty)
  10. Being smarter/better/kinder/tougher/less assy/more badassy/cautious/fearless/cautiously fearless

**as a bonus for Jim I’ll throw in ‘being more fiscally responsible’ (sorry, hunny)**

So here I sit on the razor’s edge of my 49th birthday, which technically means I’ll be starting my fiftieth year; officially a quinquagenarian. [kwing-kwuh-juhnair-ee-uh n] (⇐⇐ you’re welcome)

Where do I go from here? What meaning or comfort am I meant to find in the aging process? Because I feel like it *should* mean something – there has to be some sort of karmic take away, right? I keep thinking that, by fifty, I’m supposed to be an arbiter of wisdom and enlightenment. Instead, I feel inept and, what’s the opposite of enlightened… befuddled, maybe?

And old. Mostly I just feel old.

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Bali Is Never the Answer

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I have the attention span of a gnat. I don’t know if it’s ADHD, old age, a sensory processing disorder, or if I just plain don’t give a shit about half the things I should. Trying to pay a handful of bills becomes a three-hour process when you’re continually sidetracked by musings like “When’s the last time I vacuumed the dryer vent?” to “I really should order one of those emergency ladder thingies in case the dryer catches fire” to “if my house burns down and I have to go to the hospital, what are the odds I’ll be wearing non-saggy, rip-free underwear?”  … to 45 minutes spent on macys.com looking for the perfect bra & panty set (not too slutty, but still indicating I haven’t completely given up) to checking my bank account to see if $167.29 on Bali bras is prudent at this juncture (the answer is almost always “No.”), to “Oh, that’s right, goddammit, I have bills to pay!”

The hamster wheel in my mind no doubt overheats on a regular basis. Which gets me wondering … when’s the last time I vacuumed it out?

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Sisyphus

Have you ever heard the story of Sisyphus? It’s one of my favorite Greek tales. The cliff notes go something like this: for the crime of outsmarting death, Hades (god of the underworld) condemns Sisyphus to roll a giant boulder up a steep hill each day, only to watch it roll down again as he nears the top. He must repeat this action for eternity*.

“Gee, thanks for the Greek Mythology 101 lesson.” you’re probably thinking. (you’re welcome!)

But Sisyphus can represent so much for so many. For the addict or alcoholic, it’s the struggle to stay sober. For the adulterer, the balance to successfully juggle two (or more) lives. For the student/worker, the mundane day-to-day drudgery that threatens to overwhelm. For me, it’s my weight.

Each morning I wake to the realization that I must carefully map out my calories and activities – all in the futile hope of rolling that fucking boulder up the fucking hill.  Some days, with the wind at my back and luck on my side, I juuuust about make it. Other days I’m quitting before I’ve even begun. (I guess it’s the roly-poly version of sometimes you’re the windshield wiper/sometimes you’re the bug)

This is a picture of me taken two years ago:

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And this is me now**:

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If that’s not depressing, I don’t know what is.

I’d love to say it’s is a recent thing; to blame death and grief and sorrow for my newfound form. But that would be a lie. I will say that in the two years since Ryan’s death I’ve mostly stopped giving a shit. Sure, occasionally I’ll pay lip service to the idea of losing weight – I’ll catch a sideways glimpse in the mirror and muster up the appropriate level of bile & horror, but (like the smallest of victories Sisyphus must feel on any given day) it’s fleeting. I shake it off and carry on with my regularly scheduled program of overeating and under moving.

Still, there’s this very aware, though deeply buried, part of me that longs to… if not stand out… then blend in again. I don’t want to be the fat girl. I don’t need to be the skinny girl either, but I don’t like being noticeably obese. I dread the possibility of being charged for an extra seat on an airplane. Nor do I ever want to hear that I’m too fat to ride a ride or parasail or bungee jump or-or-or…

So why is it so hard to decide to change and stick to it? Even with knowing I’ve done it before, I can’t ever seem to get a diet off the ground, though I’m 100% capable. I won’t disclose my weight, but I will say that I’ve gained about 70 pounds between these two photos (make of that what you will).

Sometimes I think I wrap the extra pounds around me like a blanket; another layer between me and the world. The weight is my chrysalis (yep, STILL working that metaphor) — and *maybe* when I’m ready to emerge, I will.

*Greek gods are assholes.
**Disclaimer: while I’m busy fat-shaming myself, I do feel it’s important to note for my daughters (and myself) that I’m a cutie either way. #Feminism #LoveYourself #Jim’sDamnLucky
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The Chrysalis

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Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of my son’s death. It was in all ways that matter, the worst of worst days.  Although I will say that for me, as time goes by, his birthdays are sadder. Yesterday was about endings, whereas each passing birthday marks what could have been. He was only 25 when he died – so much life still ahead. I try not to dwell on these thoughts because being maudlin won’t change a thing… still, on days like yesterday, it’s hard not to.

Not too long ago (and completely by chance) I happened to be reading about the history and traditions of bereavement. In the late 1800s for instance, it was commonplace for a loved one to go into mourning for two years following a death in the family. They would wear black, retreat from society, and do everything they could think of to pick at the scab that was their grief. Thought being: pain, suffering and penance were tantamount to caring; to hurt was never to forget.

But then at the two-year mark, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, they’d rejoin a life. Just like that: poof! I’m not sure what the thought process was — that it was time to forgive themselves for the temerity of survival? That it was finally okay to move on? That a half-life was tantamount to its own kind of death and therefore no way to honor the dead or the living?

I suppose I’d like to think it was a mix of all the above; the mourners emerged sadder and wiser, and also with a greater appreciation for what really matters. I can only imagine how the audacity of hope (thanks, Obama) after so long in the dark must have dizzied them. Survival is both the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do. And make no mistake – death marks us all eventually. If you haven’t walked in these shoes, you will one day, and for that I’m sorry.

Many times over the past 24 months I’ve picked at my scabs and turned myself inside out for the sake of suffering. I’ve had moments when it seemed I was better off dead because it just didn’t feel right to draw breath when he couldn’t. I’ve dwelled on all the ways I failed– failed my children, my spouse, my community — myself. I left no stone unturned and no thought unexplored when it came to my suffering. If pain and penance equaled caring, then by God I cared a shitload.

But to what end?

So here I sit at the 2-year mark of my mourning, straining against the confines of my chrysalis and wondering if I dare to rejoin life again? My child is gone. How is that something I’m ever to move on from? Do I even want to?

He was here one day – beautiful & flawed & perfect & suffering – and gone the next. Life is cruel that way. And for this, I am forever altered. But there IS a small part of me (a part I’m often ashamed of) that wants to occasionally laugh without guilt/smile without sadness/endure without torment.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be a butterfly yet, but maybe from time to time it’s okay to wish I one day will be?

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