Remembering why I write

Trisha’s Note: I was going through my drafts folder recently and found this post. I think this all happened in April, but I still mean it, so I decided to make it live.

Work has been extra stressful lately: Big deadlines, coworkers out sick and others out on vacation (a rather big deal when you’re a writing staff of three and a half), and expectations that aren’t realistic but have to be met nonetheless. It can be kind of soul crushing.

But last Wednesday — after being told an end of day deadline was really 10 a.m. and busting my ass to meet it — I met with a group of fifth graders who were taking a special writing class “so they can meet a real writer,” as the teacher put it. “Well, I’m a real writer,” she added (very true), “but you make your living as a writer.” (I’d hardly call a poverty wage “making a living,” but whatever.)

It reminded me of why I’m a writer — why I actually do enjoy my job.

The class was 10 or so girls, and they had a lot of questions about writing and what we do at the newspaper: When did I start writing? How many stories do I write each day? Where do I get my ideas? What do I like about it?

What DO I like about it? I was surprised that the answer came quickly: I like talking to people and hearing their stories. I like taking complicated issues and writing them in a way that everyone can understand. I like learning about things. I like giving people a voice.

I’ve been feeling burned out, so it was nice to realize that I do like my job. Um, perhaps deep, deep down, but like nonetheless.

The teacher was all about writing to be read, but I tend to think that writing just to write is a worthwhile endeavor. I wouldn’t have so many journals going at once if I didn’t. Most of what I write does not get read because it’s just for me. Some of what I write is meant for family only — like a book of 365 memories I’m working on for my girls about my childhood and experiences. And, of course, whatever I write for the paper (or this blog, I guess) is out there for the world.

I have concluded that, should my job ever end (always a possibility in the newspaper world), I would be okay doing something else — anything else, really, I just need to get out of the house for a bit — because the words would still be there.

I write because I like to write. The end.

Chasing a good night’s sleep

I have always been a terrible sleeper.

I can remember laying awake in my bed as a 6-year-old, listening to the sounds of the house, bored out of my mind, nowhere near sleep. (Which is why I started hiding books under my pillow.) I can remember watching my digital alarm clock’s bright red numbers creep towards the 11 p.m. mark as a teenager, worrying about having to get up for class the next morning.

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Photo by Jonathan Fink on Unsplash. Also yes please to this kitten.

It’s pretty common that, when I wake up at night, I’m up for two hours before I can fall back to sleep. I can’t remember a time when that’s not been the case.

And we won’t talk about how it took Johanna THREE YEARS to finally sleep through the night when she was an infant/toddler, and how, even if I did manage to fall asleep, I would be up multiple times each night trying to soothe her. Spoiler alert: She was not easily soothed.

I was having coffee with a friend last month (two months ago? It might be time for another coffee date) and felt so much better when she said that she is at the age where sleep is a priority — how to get more and better sleep. It’s a topic that’s close to my heart, because even though my kids are way past needing me at night, I rarely sleep through.

I really, really want to sleep through the night. It’s my life goal at this point.

Of course I’ve researched the problem and tried the suggestions laid out in various articles. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that bodies are different and that we all have our own issues and hang ups when it comes to getting a solid night’s rest.

I don’t need it particularly dark or quiet, but for whatever reason, my body doesn’t often fall into a deep sleep. I wake myself up simply by moving. Or feeling Eric move. Or because the cats are jumping up on the bed and are incapable of stealth. Once I’m up, my brain starts on a negative loop and it’s hard to settle back down.

All 400 of those words are just to say that I’ve been experimenting with a couple of different sleep tricks lately that seem to be working. (Fingers, toes, everything crossed.)

The first: A meditation / white noise app.

After looking at a few, I settled on an app called Tide. There is a subscription service you can purchase (I haven’t), but the free content is pretty damn good. The white noise aspect is what originally made me check it out — and I now fall asleep to “Muse” (“Storm” is another favorite), which turns off on its own after a set amount of time. The upside: It works. The downside: I’ve got earbuds in and even with the volume turned low, I wonder what this is doing to my hearing. Another upside: The app also contains breathing and meditation exercises that I try to do during the day, and I’ve found this greatly helps in my overall outlook. A calmer, more peaceful me during the day seems to continue into the night.

Anyway, the suggestion here is not that Tide is right for you, but that perhaps a meditation / white noise app could prove helpful in a general sort of way.

The second: I broke down and purchased a weighted blanket off of Amazon since apparently they don’t exist in the real world.

Let me tell you the downsides to a weighted blanket right up front to get that out of the way: They are HEAVY. 😉 I got a 15-pound blanket and am wondering if maybe I should have gotten the 10. It’s a workout trying to maneuver that thing and in the beginning, I’d wake myself up every time I tried to move. Also, I’m tall, so it doesn’t completely cover my body. Actually that’s not really a downside because I hate having my feet covered. (They get hot and itchy.) And it can be a little too warm to sleep under, especially now that summer is here.

I’ve had it for about a month now, though, and the positives greatly outnumber the negatives. I love this thing. I am used to the weight at this point, so it’s not waking me up when I move around. I’m noticing that I sleep more deeply and longer with the blanket — I’m not sleeping through the night, but I am falling asleep more quickly when I wake up. And for whatever reason, it seems to be cushioning me from any of Eric’s movements (my blanket is twin-size), so I’m also not waking up because of that.

I love the feeling of that weight on my body and am finding that I like to cuddle up in it after work or on the weekends. (It’s a very soothing reading blanket. Um, and I’ve got it on my lap as I type this up on Freida.) It still feels heavy to me and it can be awkward to maneuver, but I see that as an opportunity cost.

Anyway, these two combined seem to be working, and for that, I am grateful. Grateful enough to write a post about it.

Any other bad sleepers out there? What do you do to cope?

Processing grief

I was stopped at the grocery store, again, recently when I passed an acquaintance who wanted to tell me how sorry she was to hear about my father-in-law’s passing. I keep saying the same thing over and over: That he gave us enough time so we could all gather, we were all with him at the end, it was super peaceful and super fast, and that is a blessing. That it sucks for us, but was the best case scenario for him, and we are at peace.

And that’s the truth. We are. Even my mother-in-law.

bean for blog

This post is kind of heavy, so here’s a picture of my Bean to lighten the mood.

Processing grief is … well. I had a really hard time with this one at first. I couldn’t reconcile the sight of my father-in-law unresponsive in that hospital bed with the man I knew to be an unending ball of energy. But as the week unfolded and the inevitable occurred, that feeling of anger and denial were replaced with gratitude. For the love and support we were shown (I mean, my friend Beth and her husband Jess actually left the funeral reception to get me a Trisha-friendly lunch. They asked the girls what I could eat and presented me with a bag. I can’t even tell you what that meant). For the memories we have of my father-in-law. That the Walkers are a close-knit bunch and readily support and love each other.

This is the easiest grief process I’ve ever experienced. And at first, I was wondering if maybe that meant I was weird or that some sort of something was missing in me, if I wasn’t still a wreck two months after the accident.

But I’ve realized that grief is different in every situation. I completely lost my shit at my grandfather’s funeral. It took me two years to get over my Grandma M’s death — which surprised me a bit because she had dementia issues for several years at the end and wasn’t even really the same grandma anymore; you’d think I’d have already processed the grief of losing that relationship. (She called Abby “Trisha,” and Johanna was “Trisha’s sister.” Well, she did rather love me a lot.) My lovely Aunt Jan passed away in February, and there is sadness there, but we also knew that was coming. (Although there’s grief in knowing ahead of time and coming to terms with it.) My Uncle Bob’s passing seemed like the end of an era.

There have been more losses, of course — some more intangible, like the miscarriage I had in 2003, and I would even count my jealousy at couples with two kids in this category, that loss of something that you never had, before I got pregnant with Johanna. And each has had varying degrees of grief.

I’m an English major, not a therapist, so I don’t have any grief tips or websites you should look up to help you “get over” a loss. I hate that phrase anyway: Get over. Screw you, I’ll take as long as I need, but you never “get over” something like the loss of a person, so why is that even the goal?

What I’ve learned from this latest loss is this: That it’s okay to feel what you feel as you feel it. That there are no rules for grief. That death might be inevitable, but it is still surprising. That all I can do is embrace this messy existence.

Accepting the unknown is hard for me — I don’t like surprises — but that’s another lesson this experience has taught me: It’s all unknown. All you can do is react. And positive or negative, that choice is yours.

Mistaken identity

It’s the season of graduation parties, the local high school having held its commencement ceremony for students last Friday night. We were invited to a group party for four of the graduates on Saturday to celebrate the occasion.

Johanna made the cards. I wrote the words inside and grabbed envelopes while Eric wrote the checks. I had a brief flash that perhaps I should look at the invite to make sure we had the correct location … but eh, of course we did, it’s not like town is that big and places are easily confused.

We hop in the car and head down. The golf course parking lot was PACKED. We made our way to the patio and saw lots of people milling around.

Definitely a party. Whew!

I’m searching the crowd to find our friends and I’m coming up short. I’m not overly worried about it — so what if I’m not seeing any familiar faces? Four boys, one party. There will probably be lots of people I don’t know.

Except …

Um, this IS the right party, isn’t it? I whisper to Eric. He’s looking around and sees a friend of his. Are we in the right place? Eric asks, and the guy is like, oh, yeah, have a beer, have some food!

So Eric grabs a beer. I tell him I’m going to go stand in the sun … and then realize that the party decorations feature one boy and this is not a kid I even recognize.

Eric! I hiss. We’re totally at the wrong party! Look!

I point to the wall of photos featuring whoever the heck this kid is from kindergarten through now. Eric quickly puts back his unopened drink. We laugh. We head to the foyer to make a quick phone call.

I’m embarrassed to even ask this, Eric begins, but, um, when is Ben’s party?

Sunday. Huh, I guess I should have looked at that invite after all.

Eric went back to apologize for crashing (I mean, at least he knew the guy) and was encouraged to stay, but we felt bad and weird so we headed back home. Um, and made it to the correct party on Sunday.

You know I checked the invite beforehand.

The end, I guess.

Let’s hear it for small revolutions

I’ve mentioned more than a few times about how I do our grocery shopping once a week — on Saturday mornings, generally — and that, by Friday, the cupboards are pretty bare.

And sometimes even by Wednesday, as was the case last week.

I was finishing up a book when I caught wind of some grumblings in the kitchen. My family was bemoaning the fact that there was little in the house they could pack for lunch the next day. There were even some complaints over the sorry state of that night’s dinner (random crap in a tortilla. I mean, really, they could do a lot worse).

So I pointed out the obvious: That, aside from Johanna (who wasn’t complaining, that’s why she’s my favorite), everyone in our household not only has a vehicle, but a job. Which means that any one of us can go grocery shopping at any time. That waiting for me to get around to it on Saturday wasn’t necessary.

Abby and Eric just looked at me. I could see the wheels turning. It almost made me laugh.

First, they apologized. I was like, seriously, no sweat, I’m just reminding you that you have options. (Truth. I wasn’t worried; my dinner had been fine.) And Abby was all, you know what? You’re absolutely right, which kind of surprised me but also was a lovely thing to hear. Vindication! I went back to my book and Eric and Abby started making a plan.

Abby will be living off campus next school year with some friends and she keeps talking about learning to cook — so actually, maybe that helped my case. She’s been in the mood for taco soup and, as our weather went from the pleasant 80s to the rather chilly 50s in the span of a day and a half, she decided that was what was going on the menu Thursday night.

They found a recipe. They made a list. Eric went shopping after work (Abby was going to do it, but Eric ended up having more time than he expected, so he made the trip). While I lounged around, they made dinner. I had to save the day when it came to taco seasoning and home-canned tomatoes, but for the most part, everyone left me alone.

It was awesome.

They ended up with a big pot of soup. Johanna has textural issues (she refuses to eat cooked vegetables) and made herself eggs instead, and I can’t eat it, thanks to my jerk of a stomach (although I would if I could), so I had a rather lovely salad with leftover shredded chicken instead. But both Eric and Abby were happy with the meal.

Once upon a time, I’d have been ashamed that I had failed to keep the kitchen stocked. (Or the bathroom clean or the laundry washed.) I’d have taken the complaints as personal criticism. And I’m not sure if a switch flipped or if I’m finally learning my lesson, but I can see that this really isn’t a commentary on me at all. It’s a little bit being spoiled. It’s a little bit thoughtlessness — because they don’t have to think about how the fridge gets filled. And it’s also probably a bit of laziness.

I feel like a revolutionary. I feel like I’ve got a new notch on my feminist belt.

I’m kind of wondering if this will be a lasting lesson or if they’ll forget by Wednesday of this week.

Note to self: I don’t have to do it all. And it’s probably better if I don’t — for me, of course, because that means I can do more fulfilling work (or not: Reading, writing, taking a nap, playing with kittens, whatever). But also for them, particularly the girls, to learn a few basic life skills.

Also, this makes it sound like Eric is terrible. He’s not. He regularly cooks, does dishes, folds laundry and goes to The Store That Must Not Be Named to pick up toilet paper. (He doesn’t like to sit down, that’s why.) But groceries aren’t generally on his list. Um, they might be now. 😉

How to tell if the Walker Four are all under one roof

  • There are no glasses in the cupboard.
  • The food you thought would last the week actually lasts until Tuesday.
  • You try to go to sleep but end up having a slumber party until Mom gets cranky about being pushed off HER OWN BED.
  • Constant chatter.
  • Art supplies everywhere.
  • Requests for gas money.
  • More laundry.
  • We watch an extraordinary amount of The Office reruns.
  • More kids in and out of the house.
  • More schedules to coordinate.
  • General chaos.
  • I’m at my happiest.

🙂

Scarcity myth

Abby and I have a tradition of Friday Lunch when she’s home from college. We both work downtown, so we meet up and walk to a nearby coffee shop. It’s a chance for us to hang out and catch up. And it’s fun.

During our most recent lunch, the two of us got onto the topic of journals and planners and how we keep track of our days. She talked about using hers to journal and get into a healthier routine; I’m sort of over my planner because it’s got a self-help aspect to it and, since my father-in-law’s death, I’ve just kind of decided I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of constantly feeling like I need to be working towards some goal.

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Scarcity mindset: That there is never, EVER enough. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

And then Abby was all, Well, that’s the scarcity mentality, Mom. It makes you think there’s never enough time or money and that you constantly have to work to improve your situation. That you’re never good enough. And I was like, WHAT.

Because I’d never thought of it like that, in terms of why I always feel like a hamster on a wheel. But lo and behold, the answer is simply that we’re bombarded with messages that we are not enough as we are.

Case in point (and I’m still kind of pissed about this, vaguely): We went to the big city recently to buy an eighth grade promotion dress for Johanna. While in the mall (wow, nothing like going to a mall to remind you why they suck), a salesman called me over and tried to sell me all manner of beauty product to improve my skin in general and lift the area under my eyes in particular. ‘Cause I’m noticeably middle aged, I guess.

And then, as I was walking away, a saleswoman tried the same thing. I was fuming. Eric was like, They’re just doing their job, and I was all, Yeah, point taken, but why, as a woman, am I supposed to give literally any shits whether or not I meet some unattainable definition of beauty? They aren’t calling YOU over.

I am six feet tall (truly, that’s not program height 😉 ) and I weigh 138 pounds. And I still feel like my body isn’t thin enough in the right places. I don’t color my hair, but I keep it trimmed and thinned, and I use a flat iron religiously because it’s very thick and that’s the only way I can keep it from puffing out. And my skin care routine is basically a bar of soap and some sunscreen, but I wear makeup because then I feel presentable.

So basically I was fuming because it made me confront all the ways I DO give a shit. Self-realization is hard, yo.

But Abby’s words made it seem more … I don’t know. Like, I could understand the tendency on a fundamental level. It’s just that I wanted to actually know why this is even a thing.

So: I started researching “scarcity mentality” to try to figure out more thoroughly what it means and what it does to a person’s overall health.

Most of what I found had to do with financial issues. Finding information on the mental and emotional aspects was harder and I never really did come across anything that struck me as an explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. I did find a book called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” which I have added to my reading list. But otherwise, the closest I came was this paragraph:

Having thoughts and feelings of scarcity automatically orients the mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower also is depleted, which makes one prone to feelings of giving up. People in this state attend to the urgent while neglecting important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future. (LINK)

(That was the only part of that article I found helpful, incidentally.)

What I found ironic about my (admittedly quick, we’re talking a couple of hours) research is that most articles were linked with ways to create an abundance mindset — and I have no interest in that, as it seems like one more think I need to feel bad about: My mindset isn’t abundant enough! Better add that to the list of self-improvements!

So my overarching questions did not get answered immediately is what I’m saying. What did become clear to me is that this scarcity mentality is probably why minimalism is still considered an alternative lifestyle choice (and again, easy for me since I’m not financially strapped), why I sometimes make terrible decisions on everything from adding to my closet to what I put on my plate, and why we live in such a need-based society — why we’re never satisfied with what we have and where we are (we need more money / recognition / socks / knickknacks / travel / friends / health / etc.).

My limited search did make me think of this on a grander level, as in people I know, as I’m sure we all do, who never give but always take and/or why women have such a hard time rooting for each other, as if someone else’s success somehow takes away from our own. Why sometimes I don’t want to give. Why I have to make a point to remember I want us all to win.

And that maybe, much like I shout I CHOOSE PEACE when I find myself in a negative mental loop, I need to start yelling THAT’S A SCARCITY MENTALITY when I catch myself wondering if my neck is too wrinkled or thinking that I need a certain object to make my life better or catch myself feeling angry that I have to donate $5 to that person’s office birthday fund when everyone knows she doesn’t donate herself, even though $5 means nothing to me.

Uh, I might have some unresolved issues to work through.

I find this quite fascinating and I’ll follow up after I read “Scarcity.” I would really, truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this after one conversation with my brilliant kid and a quick search.

Link HERE: The NPR story on the authors of “Scarcity” and what they learned in their research. It’s a quick read.