Podcast Interview on The Kota, Writing, and More

What do you get when you put 2 musicians, a writer, a recording device, and a few beers together?
The best bar conversation you’re ever going to eavesdrop.

Many thanks to Justin Stover of Blue Collar Songwriting for the rare opportunity to be interviewed alongside my brother, Christian Somerville, who co-created The Kota Series worlds with me.  This was tons of fun.

May or may not contain:
Stories of how The Kota originated
The influences of family on creativity
My writing history
Why I love indie publishing
Connections between indie writing and indie music
Taylor Swift shout-outs

Enjoy!

https://bluecollarsongwriting.com/2016/05/24/bcs-podcast-sunshine-christian-somerville/

TPH Promo

May – Mental Health Awareness Month

TPH Charity Promo Small
This month, I’m donating all proceeds from my novella, The Poet Heroic, to the Patient Assistance Fund for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, which is a  local facility that helps people with counseling, detox, etc.  Absolutely 100% of this fund goes towards helping people pay for treatments they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Why I’m doing this: 
Last Fall, one of my close friends committed suicide.   I was writing The Poet Heroic at the time, and I constantly thought of my friend as I wrote because he was a twin and my main character is a twin.  This book affected me emotionally in ways I wasn’t expecting as a result.  It was only fitting that I dedicated the book:

“In loving memory of Jeff, and for anyone else struggling to find the light.” 

No one knew my friend was struggling.  As far as we know, he never asked for help.  His loss hit us all very hard – for many reasons – but one of the hardest things is that he never asked for help and so we were never able to help him.  Many of us were left with this feeling that we just wanted to DO SOMETHING.  We wanted others who might be struggling to know it’s okay to ask for help.  We wanted others to be able to get help.

So, this is something I can DO.  In the few weeks I’ve been working on this month-long event, I’ve heard touching stories from many people who have suffered with depression.  I’ve heard touching stories from people who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues.  I’ve had many people join me because they too want to DO SOMETHING to help.  I’ve been very touched by all of the support and donations, and we’ve got a few weeks to go!!

If you’d like to be part of this event, join us at http://bit.ly/MentalHealthAwarenessEvent

If you’d like to enter a raffle for 50+ ebooks! and help spread the word, enter at https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/5acd3f201/

If you’d like to add to my donation to the Patient Assistance Fund, (THANK YOU!), see http://bit.ly/ThePoetHeroicBonusGiving

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Poet Heroic and donate that way, go to http://bit.ly/ThePoetHeroicPurchaseDonation

Please, use this month to raise your own awareness, maybe ask for help yourself, and be especially supportive of those struggling with mental health issues.

About my vague health posts lately…

Here’s what’s been going on with me:
 ***
A few weeks ago while in the shower, I thought I got shampoo in my eye because I had sudden patches in my left eye’s vision.  This stupidity seemed very typical of me, and I didn’t think too much of it.  After a week, these grey patches had quieted into a small blurry spot in the center of my vision. Then, while trying to relax in a jacuzzi at my parents’ house, the patches suddenly returned. The next morning I went to my mom’s ophthalmologist, and thus began one of the scariest times of my life.
  ***
The ophthalmologist took pictures that showed my left eye was hemorrhaging “like an eye mini-stroke,” and the pooling blood was causing my blind spot.  (You know when you have a vision test and you’re supposed to read the letters?  I couldn’t even see the giant E at the top.)  I was sent semi-emergently to a retinal specialist in Grand Rapids, and there further pictures and an angiogram confirmed that my eye was hemorrhaging in about 8-10 places.  The pics of my eye looked like craters on the moon.  Also, for some reason the blood flow into my eye was slow – 20 seconds when it should be about 4.  It wasn’t inflamed enough to suggest an arterial occlusion, so that was some good news.  But if it developed into an occlusion, that could mean I’d lose my vision entirely.
  ***
Thing is, this should not happen in someone my age with absolutely zero risk factors.  (I’m pretty sure the specialist thought I was lying when I kept answering “No” to his ROS questions.)  So, the specialist ordered about 14 blood tests and an MRI/MRA to sort out what the hell could be causing this.  He sent me home – my eyes fully dilated for 10+ hours and exhausted without any treatment – with the knowledge only that “it could be something pretty scary.”  (A terrible thing to tell a medical transcriptionist, btw.  Knowing the multitude of things that COULD be wrong = hypochondriac freakout.)  Then, because of some office snafus, my MRI wasn’t properly scheduled and no one bothered to call me for 4 days until my mom called to yell at them.  So I went from being treated as an emergency on Monday to not hearing anything for the rest of the week.  DID.  NOT.  HELP.
  ***
Since my eye externally looks completely normal and I’ve had no pain whatsoever, this all would’ve gone completely undetected were in not for my blurry vision.  But something is “seriously wrong” as an underlying mystery diagnosis. Plus now I’m afraid to bathe because that seems to be a hemorrhage trigger.  So that’s awesome.
IMG_6431
This has all been completely new to me.  Aside from having strep so often as a child that I had to have my tonsils out, I’ve had near-perfect health my whole life.  I’ve sprained several ankles, sure, but I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, never been on medication, never had a cavity, and I’ve never worn contacts or glasses.  I have NEVER taken my health for granted.  I have felt incredibly blessed my whole life to have the health I’ve had.  So maybe I’m due, I don’t know.
  ***
As an avid reader, as a writer, and as an artist, the possibility of losing my sight is heartbreaking.  As someone planning a wedding and finally making plans for a future I’m looking forward to, being told I might have something that could kill me (“do not exert yourself” was expressed, as a blood clot was another possibility) is even more terrifying.
  ***
I don’t do well not having control, and I was properly freaked out for a good while.  I hate not knowing.  At least if I knew what this was, I could find a way to cope, to prepare, or to move forward.  But the not knowing is the hardest part for me.  (They HAVE ruled out the random test for syphilis, so I guess that’s something.)
  ***
But here’s the thing:  It’s always during times of freaking out that I feel most held.  You are free to not believe in God, but I do.  During my times of fear, I always feel like God goes, “Ah-ha, see? This is what I’m here for,” and then I feel cocooned in a love/peace that I can’t explain.  This has happened time and again, and it’s happened now.  I again have reached a place of acceptance that I’m not in control, and “let whatever happens happen” is an incredibly freeing headspace to be in. I don’t want to go blind or die; I want to live.  But at least I’m being given time to evaluate and appreciate the life I’ve had.  This too, in a way, is a blessing.
  ***
And that’s not all.  For a long time in my life, I didn’t let people in.  I didn’t let people help me.  (I certainly never would have publicly acknowledged that I was terrified.)  Now, going through THIS crisis, I feel incredibly blessed to have so many people who genuinely care about me.
  • I have a mother who’s been a saint through this whole process.
  • I have a dad who I know would do anything for me.
  • I have a brother who was willing to watch my monster-cat while I stayed at our childhood home because he knew I needed to feel safe.
  • I have a fiancé who’s called every day to check on me while he’s been out of state for work, and I know he’s worried but trying to joke and keep me calm.
  • I have future in-laws who’ve taken it upon themselves to become MRI/MRA experts.
  • I have friends I’ve known since childhood who demand updates. (My phone now knows to auto-fill “hemorrhage.”)
  • I have college friends who’ve expressed concern and willingness to help however they can.
  • I have a friend in Florida who called because she figured out that that might be easier for me than emailing since the whole problem is my vision.
  • I have a church family who prayed for me the second they heard the news.
  • I have family who’ve expressed their love in a variety of ways.
  • I have online friends I’ve never met who don’t know what specifically is going on but express unquestioning compassion whenever I post something about needing mental/emotional/spiritual support.
Please know that I do not take any of you for granted.  Your kind words and thoughts are extremely appreciated.
IMG_6462
During my checkup this week, a visiting retinal specialist from the Philippines was shown a picture of my retinal hemorrhage and said, “Wow, that’s so rare I could have gone my whole life without seeing one.”  My specialist reviewed my blood work and found basically nothing (thereafter getting creative and ordering a test for what is essentially cat scratch fever).  I did finally have my MRI/MRA, and fortunately that came back as a normal study free of occlusions or vascular malformations.  (Ever had an MRI?  It was very hard for me to come out of the machine and not say to the tech, “I know Kung Fu.”) But basically, nothing so far hints at the cause of this anomaly.  We decided/joked that maybe I would have this named after me, although we agreed “Sunshine Disease” doesn’t sound scary enough.
  ***
So now?  My left eye’s vision has improved to 20/40, so that’s something I can live with.  But it might never get better, and at any time I could hemorrhage again so it gets worse.  On the one hand, it is wonderful to hear all the negative results of these tests.  On the other,  there is NO diagnosis and I’ll never know if this could happen again of if something worse could happen.  Right now, there’s no way to treat this mysterious underlying cause.
  ***
So I’m still a bit freaked. I still need your prayers, bright thoughts, positive vibes – whatever you’ve got to throw my way.  But I’m trying to hold to that feeling of being held and reminding myself to trust and let go.   It helps nothing by being tense.  And I think it’s important to appreciate the blessings I have, now more than ever.
***
  • I feel fine and still “have my health.”
  • I can see well enough.
  • I’m not in pain.
  • I have a God who probably knows what He’s doing.
  • I have my people.
  • And at least I won’t die of syphilis.

#TopTenTuesday – Jeff

Last night, many gathered to say goodbye to one of the best people I’ve ever known.  As I said to someone, “This is the first thing I’ve ever not liked about Jeff.”  If you know me at all, you know it’s really significant that I never found anything I didn’t like about him.  Jeff was a little man, but his absence will be an enormous hole we’ll all feel every time we gather.

Several people at the visitation last night told me how much they appreciated seeing all the pictures I’d taken of Jeff over the years.  In the smallest of ways, it made me feel a little better to know I’d been able to witness and document so many truly excellent Jeff moments.  Here are my favorites.

Top 10 Favorite Jeff Memories:

321:   Camping Cartwheels.  I had a fractured arm.  Jeff and Dan were considerably tipsy.  Why not choose that moment to learn how to do a cartwheel?  There’s video of this on Facebook, but I think these pictures capture the gist.  At the very least, it sums up Jeff’s willingness to try new things.  “Jeff, can you do a cartwheel?”  Jeff: “Absolutely not, but what the hell,” before handing his beer to Dan and having me literally flip him into a cartwheel.


1472:   Porch Nights.  When some of us girls lived in a house together, we regularly had Porch Nights where the group would gather, sit around, drink, play games, and talk about nonsense, TV, our lives, and philosophy.  Jeff was always right in the middle of it.  I can remember being inside and hearing his infectious laughter out on the porch, and at least a part of me always smiled.


1236958_653285365251_1840961993_n3:   Jeff and Ari.  (Yep, this is where I start crying.)  Jeff was an awesome godparent.  I was never sure who seemed happier to see who – Jeff or Ari.  But there was a special bond there, and it always made me so happy to see.


427503_602850911301_1183354188_n4:   Catfish Ninja.  I can honestly say that Jeff and Dan were the only campers to ever catch one of the needy but skittish catfish in my grandmother’s lake.  It was at the every end of a camping trip, but it happened.  (This after HOURS of Jeff sitting on the end of the dock trying to reach in and grab them by hand, hence that year’s Jeff name of Catfish Ninja.)


149509_533026095791_7026604_n5:   Drunken Headbutting.  I don’t actually know if this was a Jeff “thing” or it only happened occasionally.  I kind of think he did it to make everyone get on his level.  And since I now live with a cat who does this as a sign of affection, I think that was part of it too.


5452_519725405481_152000781_30842750_2442717_n6:   The Mermaid Pose.  My grandmother’s lake where we always went camping was a bit weedy, to put it mildly.  One year, Jeff decided to make this happen and then insisted that I do a photo shoot.


DSCN22337:  Mardi Gras Fish Face.  Don’t remember why he wanted an aquarium on his face.  Do remember that he wouldn’t sit still while trying to do it.  The fact that his mouth is done so badly proves that he wouldn’t stop talking.


1738:  …This  As Brooke said, “For every event there is a ‘Jeff Picture.’ It never fails to delight.”


5452_519725225841_152000781_30842734_6340590_n9:   Out on a Limb This tree WAS begging to be climbed.  Dan was slightly more graceful, but Jeff hanging upside down is what made me laugh until I cried.  How he did it with a beer I’ll never know.


10: Last Second Thursday Supper.  While preparing to go to the visitation, I found the receipt for the last dinner I shared with Jeff.  It was also the last time I saw him.  Only a few of us were able to go, which in a way I’m glad of because it meant I got to talk to Jeff more than I might have if the whole group had been there.  The restaurant had been his suggestion, and it was certainly not a place I ever would have thought to try on my own.  It was excellent.  And that is so Jeff to me – he had a way of finding the good stuff.  Whether food or film or music or book or idea or person – he found the good stuff.  I will miss his recommendations and that happy smirk he got when you agreed with him about it.

A Pause…

I don’t have it in me to write a #TheFourFriday today.  Last night, my closest group of friends received the worst possible news you can get about a friend.  We sat around for a few hours together, shellshocked, trying to individually and as a group process what it meant that our friend had taken his own life.

I’m a writer.  I process by writing my thoughts and feelings down, so bear with me as I get this out.  I’ve now had about 12 hours to sort out my reaction.  I know the stages of grief, and I don’t know exactly where I’m at, but I know a lot of words that apply to this situation.

Denial. Shock. Confusion. Anger. Guilt. Mourning. Unreal. Sorrow. Regret. Love. Why? Why? Why?

But the thing is, it all boils down to the word… Sad.  It is sad that my friend chose to take his life.  It is sad that none of us saw this coming.  It is sad that we all would have tried to help if we’d known.  It is sad that he left people who love him.  It is sad he couldn’t find the light.  It is sad that he is gone.  I am sad that he is gone.  We are sad that he is gone.

And I want to say, for anyone struggling with something to the point that it is dragging you into darkness, PLEASE talk.  Say something.  Ask for guidance.  If it gets to the point where you want it to end, make one last effort to reach out and get help.  People love you.  There is ALWAYS someone who will want to help.

I also want to say that I’m incredibly grateful for the people around me:
The friend whose phone wasn’t working and so drove over to tell me this news in person.
The friends who welcomed everyone into their home late at night to grieve together.
The man I love who was intuitive enough to go get us whiskey and bourbon when tea just wasn’t cutting it.
The parents I informed because I know they care about the people I care about.
The brother I texted because I knew he would know how I was feeling.

God bless, all.

The Problem With Being Comfortable

There’s a downside to being encouraged too much as a child.  Growing up, I was always the Golden Child, although I think I was only eager to please because I found it so easy to please.  I could get by with little effort and even excel in some areas without trying.  I was always told I could do anything I wanted, be anything I wanted.  And I knew I was smart enough and talented enough and driven enough that that was true.

But here’s one of the internal hiccups of being me:  I get option paralysis.  When any and all roads are open to me, I can’t pick.  I was always told and believed that I could do/be anything I wanted…but what did I want?

What I’ve always ended up doing is just settling into whatever is good enough.  I slip into the comfort zone of what I’m good at so that I’m satisfied to a passable degree and don’t feel like some kind of floundering failure.  I make myself comfortable with my surroundings, my regular activities, the people I regularly see, etc.  And I just kind of… accept that comfort zone because it’s good enough without having to try, even if I have no idea if it’s what I really want.

Fortunately, somewhere along the trail of growing up, I whack-a-moled the Golden Child reflex to please everyone.  I know perfectly well by this point that I meet expectations without trying, so woo-hoo for me.  Except, not woo-hoo for ME.  Internally, I know that settling for what’s good enough is still settling.  Is my comfort zone really what I want?  This question has always, always plagued me – What do I want?  I don’t think I’ve been able to answer that question for myself at any point in my history.

So what do I do?  I stick with my comfort zone.  I DO like my life, don’t get me wrong – if I was miserable, I’d change things.  I have a pleasant life.  Close family.  Good friends.  Beaches within a reasonable driving distance.  More local breweries than I can possibly visit in a week (I’m sure some could, but I’ve apparently become a lightweight).  I’m generally content.  Comfortable.  But is this all I want?  Or have I gotten so comfortable that I’m a bit in denial about being…satisfied?

It doesn’t help that I work at home, alone, with buckets of time to think.  As generally content as I am with my life, still questions of “What if” creep in to fill the hours.  What if I’d made an ambitious pursuit of a vocation at…something I’d wanted?  What if I’d said “yes” any number of times, maybe making mistakes but maybe not?  What if, at any point, I’d wanted something so passionately that I’d been driven to aim for it?

I’ve always been a quietly restless person, probably exactly because I’ve never known what I want.  I’m just not comfortable with being comfortable.  I need to be shaken up semi-regularly.  I need stimulation from the norm.  I hate feeling stagnant.  I hate ruts.  I go through periods (now, obviously) where I get restless and twitchy and question every life decision I’ve ever made.  But still – what do I want?  I have no idea.

I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who adopt the personal mantra of “All who wander are not lost.”  I’ve known people who can’t settle anywhere and “want to see the world” because they think that’s going to solve their problems that they’re carrying around with them everywhere they land.  I’m self-aware enough to know drastically moving or traveling is not going to be a cure-all.  At the same time, some of my best decisions were drastic, made on a whim, and excellent examples of my inability to control my impulse-control issues.  (I’m looking at you, move to Detroit.)  There is something beautifully freeing about hitting some kind of reset and throwing yourself into new surroundings.  There’s something wonderfully freeing about being surrounded by nothing you know.

I’m pretty sure this possible solution entered my brain because a friend recently pointed out to me that I would “never move.”  This bothered me because:

A) It’s frustrating when someone knows you disturbingly well in so many ways that you have to wonder if they’re right about you all the time.

B) A John Locke (LOST) voice in my head always yells, “Don’t tell me what I [won’t] do!”

Also, it got me thinking.  In the back of my mind, I know that moving is always something I’m quite open to if presented with a good enough reason.  In fact, I think that’s why I rent.  So IS that what I want, right now?  A drastic move (literally), a shake up from this comfortable, pleasant little life I’ve settled into?  Or would that just be a quick fix?

I’ve never been comfortable being comfortable.  Maybe that’s all I want – to not be so damn comfortable – although that’s a terrible wish for a pessimist to throw out into the universe.  But I am restless constantly, and I can’t blame it on winter anymore.  I need…something.  I think – I think – I should find baby steps to shake things up where I’m at rather than some drastic move (say, Iceland, for example…Iowa is easier to resist), but I don’t know.  I guess I’m just trying to stay open to possibilities (good ones, please, universe) that I can jump on if they’re what I want.

You and You and You Complete Me

They say your 20’s are meant for finding yourself and your 30’s are for sorting out and getting comfortable with what you want in life. Personally, sitting here in my 30s, I’m finding that what I want most is good relationships with people in my life.  If you knew me in my teens, this is probably kind of shocking – back then, I had a handful of people I could tolerate, let alone love.  But I’ve never been vocationally driven, creatively over-ambitious, or heard a biological clock ticking to the point of deafening every other thought.  As I’ve moved out of my teens, out of my 20’s, and now into my 30’s, PEOPLE matter most to me, and my relationships are what push and pull me in a hundred different directions so that I feel like I’m getting the most out of life.

I’ve always hated the line “You complete me.”  Part of this may be because I was on the Rolls-Eyes-At-Tom-Cruise bandwagon before there was a bandwagon.  Mostly, I just think it’s a horrible idea because no one person can ever completely fulfill you.  It’s a dangerous, romantic idea to invest all happiness and well-being on one person (think “Twilight” style).  That way disappointment lies.  And resentment.  Anger.  Often, divorce.  No one, no matter how wonderful and no matter how much better they make your life, is perfect all the time.  Putting that kind of pressure on a relationship of any kind – marriage, BFFs, doctor/patient – can be disastrous.

And that’s why I’ve learned that I have to let relationships be whatever they are, not what I might want them to be. You can’t  make some work, no matter how hard you try to invest and make someone an important part of your life.

  • That cool girl might not want to be your BFF, but she could be someone you enjoy immensely whenever your paths cross.
  • That person you worship as a mentor might not have time to take you under their wing, but you can still learn from what they can give.
  • That guy might not love you like you wish he would, but he could be a great friend who cares about you.

I’ve learned to let relationships be what works.  You don’t need to throw people away if they don’t completely fulfill you.  That one person might be great in one specific area that everyone else misses, so let other people be the rest of what you’d want from that person.

The reverse is true too. I’ve found I often fall into the trap of trying to be everything for someone.  I want to give someone whatever they need from me, whenever they need it.  But that can be exhausting and relationship-ending too. I grow resentful, even if I am kind of encouraging them to be emotional vampires.  Some of these relationships I’ve learned I have to back off from.  I can’t complete people all on my own any more than anyone else can complete me all on their own.  But I can be something for them – just not everything.  I can still give advice or support when an emotional vampire really, really needs it.  I can still send a joke message to that awkward friend when I find something I know he’ll enjoy.  I can exchange low-maintenance emails with that girl who’s life has moved in a different direction from mine. I can’t force these relationship be what they once might have been, but they can still mean something to me, each in their own way.

Of course there are different levels of connection, and some people complete us more than others.  I have an amazing family, and I have a close circle of friends I love dearly who feed me and love me and get me – we all have these people, I hope.  But even in this group of people who fulfill me, it’s a group effort. I get different things from different people – the strain of fulfilling a person’s needs is best passed around, I think.  I don’t go to my girl friends for advice I know I’d respect more from my parents, for example (that might seem abnormal, but there it is – my parents are awesome).  I likewise don’t expect my parents to understand memes about “New Girl.”

  • I have a friend I talk to about hairstyles.
  • I have a friend with whom I discuss religion.
  • I have a brother with whom I share more personal life angst than I dare expose anyone else to.
  • I have a friend who shares my hermit/introvert problems.
  • I have a childhood friend who gets my past and how it still affects me today.
  • I have someone I met at a party who is more supportive of my books than anyone in my day-to-day life.
  • I have an author friend who knows the writing headspace and also knows that sometimes I just need a break where we have stupid conversation for an hour.

It’s good to have people to count on.  Everyone in your “inner circle” shares something unique with you, probably. It’s good to have go-to people.  It’s good to know who can handle what level of your crazy.

For me, I also know that, no matter how much I love the people who fall into the categories above, I’m always going to need new people too.  It’s not that I get bored with people in my life too often… but it’s nice to bring in new blood and see more of humanity.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.” – Anne Lamott
 

Also, this:

ddragontattoo61

And it’s these “ah-ha” kindreds, as well as these people who have something that makes them completely stand out, that maintain my faith in humanity.  I think you also have to let these people just be what they are without forcing these “single serving friends” to mean more than they can.  If you meet someone on Twitter who shares your love of Supernatural and you go on to become BFFs, great.  If someone shares a great moment with you and you never hear from them again after that day, that can be great too, if you look at it right.  Let it be what it is.

I guess all this boils down to letting go of control.  Control of other people.  Control of relationship definitions.  Control of what you think you need and what you think you need to be.  Let everyone in your life have their own space that is just theirs and don’t demand they fit the mold of some idea in your head.  With less pressure, less expectations, who knows?  You might find fulfillment from a thousand different sources.

Hermithood

It’s that time of year when I typically have had it with winter anyway, but today I’ve spent most of my time eagerly anticipating the moment when the wind is going to finish tearing off my neighbor’s screen door so that it joins the blowing snow, which just doesn’t seem to want to fly down

I miss the color green.
I can’t even remember what dirt smells like.
I remember what birds sound like only because of TV.
I’m sick of being cooped up and having way too much time to think and consequently freaking out about every life decision I’ve ever made.

 But here’s the thing: Despite the weather, despite hating being cooped up (yes, I could do things outside, but I’m not a crazy winter person), I really don’t mind this winter causing me to spend so much time alone.  I would like to be out, at the park, at the beach, among the living, etc.  But I’ve gotten pretty good at doing these things by myself.  Maybe it’s part of being a writer, but I like to be out in the world and just observe.  I like having great stretches of time where I can think without having to entertain anyone else. Selfishly, I like doing things my way.  Less selfishly, I like not making other people accommodate me into their plans.

Of course I like spending time with my family and my friends.  Most of them.  Many of them.  Some of them.  Sometimes.  It would be absolutely detrimental to my mental wellbeing if I didn’t interact with people regularly. I genuinely love meeting new people.  I’ve had a job in the past which required me to be more social than any of you probably will ever be in your life, so forgive me if I smirk a bit when you get all judge-y like I can’t be social.  (Okay, that started to get specific…) Anyway, yes, I like people.  I’d say I need people.  I may be an introvert, but people feed me creatively, spiritually, etc. in ways that neither I nor Netflix can.

But my usual, comfortable state involves a table for one.

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The natural question most people ask is, “Don’t you wish you were in a relationship so that you’re not alone all the time?” My first reaction is usually to find this insulting.  My second reaction is to take a deep breath and try to make the person understand that I’m quite happy being single.  Well-meaning relatives and friends of course try to “help.”  My usual response echoes Liz Lemons’s “No, thank you, please!” Okay, being in a relationship wouldn’t be a bad idea, but having some guy in my life usually just exhausts me.  If someone wants to see me more than once a week, I start to feel claustrophobic.  Maybe at some point someone will surprise me, but I don’t NEED someone to make me feel content.  I think that’s a much healthier space to be in – hoping to be surprised – than dating anyone/everyone in the hope that I won’t have to be alone.

If I’m being honest, most of the time it’s probably better that I’m not around people.  Usually in public my verbal edit switch IS clicked to on, but I apparently have lost all ability to control my facial expressions.  While I might really, really want to spend time out with friends, after a few hours that enthusiasm is likely to wane and I’d rather be back enjoying Sammy (my TV) or else writing.  However, this time of year, I think everyone has had it with being stuck inside and so we’re a bit more likely to enjoy each other’s company just for the sake of being in each other’s company. I can be okay in public, and this time of year even I am willing to give it a go.

 On that note, I have to go get ready to leave my apartment.  Good luck to everyone dealing with me tonight.

Muppet Christmas Lessons

[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]

I am proud of Jason Segel.  I don’t know him.  Never met him.  I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true.  He brought the Muppets back to life.  The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood.  Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).

After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month.  It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing.  Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.

This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge.  I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me.  The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this:  After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after.  That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”

Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend.  As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge.  She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint.  However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t.  She reverts.  She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn.  It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think.  (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.)  In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.

So.  When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last?  At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.”  I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two.  But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades.  Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else.  I’m not really that bad, right?  Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong.   Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.

Example:  Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat.  I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else.  (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.)  The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality.  Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations.  Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural.  While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous.  The problem was me.  Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME.  For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye.  If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others?  I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws.  It’s only fair.  What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk?  Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?

As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots.  I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid.  The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking.  Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form).  As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity.  I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot.  And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go.  Welcome back.”  I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.

  1. Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself.  If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
  2. Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
  3. Get out of my own head.  Empathize more.
  4. Let things go.  People aren’t perfect.

Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?”  There will be slips.  I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes.  Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again.  But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.  

NOT THIS:                                                         THIS:

adu       scro

NOT THIS:                                                          THIS:

adul                scroo

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