I’ve been learning and inconsistently practicing new habits to improve my health in the last couple of years. My naturopath, desperate to get through to me, once asked me if I wanted to “be here.” As in, did I want to be alive. I took the question home, thought and journaled about it for a week or so, and decided that yes, I want to be alive.
I wanted to be alive for my son, especially. Now, I add to that my partner and future husband. My friends. My garden.
Do you see the pattern there?
It’s a small and personal world that I live in and live for.
I wonder, is that really enough to make my life worth living?
See, I was raised an Evangelical Christian in the United States in the latter part of the 20th Century. And while individualism, trickle-down economics, and oat bran bear no resemblance to the Gospel, somehow religion was tangled up with the contemporary culture. In the midst of the dissonance, the religion identified itself through symbols of personal piety like, proscribing sex outside of heterosexual marriage, campaigning against abortion and anyone associated with them, and conflating the AIDS crisis with the so-called "abomination" of homosexuality.
But the text of the gospels, whether taken as a summarized whole or proof-texting parts, doesn’t provide a lot of instruction on personal matters. Rather, it dwells on issues that affect the collective and show up publicly. Issues like poverty and greed, genuine hospitality for society’s outsiders, and otherwise living one’s life in contrast to the dominant culture’s power structures and definitions of worth.
As a child, I accepted the faith and its religion in earnest. But disconnects between the words we said as a congregation and the way we lived in our homes and daily lives, occasionally broke through and concerned me. Those concerns developed into a heavy tension as I matured. If the spiritually faithful were in action unfaithful, what was the point of the faith? If the congregation lives according to the prevailing culture rather than its proclaimed savior, which demonstration of their faith is true? Ultimately, I judged culture the winner in this competition.
It was a relief. I cut loose from the tension. I freed myself of the obligation to follow Jesus’ example. I chose values like personal security, private property, physical health, and my immediate relationships.
But Jesus’s life, and that original tension, hovers around me.
Jesus didn’t preach about raising children, saving for the future, or delaying death through proper nutrition and daily exercise. Those things are cultural and they still matter to me. So I don’t measure up to his example. I’m making no effort to measure up and simply won’t. Is there a way to live within the tension of the dominant culture and the example of Jesus? Something more than financial donations and social media posts denouncing the powers that be. I really don't know. In the meantime, maybe I can register some faint shimmy on the Richter scale of practice. That, to me, is the path to a life worth living.
In November 2016, my bestie G was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. We were relieved, in a way, to have a diagnosis for the disturbing symptoms that had been disrupting her mind, relationships, and daily life for months. But... cancer.
In an effort to cheer myself, and cast some hope into the future, I purchased some decorative papers to make a journal for her. But the days were so full of worry, fatigue, and challenge after challenge... my energy and inspiration pulled away. The book didn't get made.
Two years later, G is cancer-free! She is restored to her full and healthy self. Her family, work, and other relationships, all share in the gifts of her renewal. We are all relieved. We are reconnected. The tenuous thread of life, its preciousness, G's preciousness, made obvious by disease, remains close in our hearts and minds, even as we resume the usual and mundane of our day-to-day.
Finally, I am making her book. A token of love and celebration. For her birthday.
I've enjoyed coloring since I was a child. As an adult, it's taken on a different feel and purpose. When I scroll through my old blog, there are intermittent posts of completed coloring pages, filled in at night at the kitchen table, waiting for Baby N to wake up for a feeding or some comfort, until I could finally go to bed. Now, N is a tween who needs different things from me, and I find myself again at the kitchen table coloring.
I color to soothe my nerves and clear my head after a day at the office and the commuter traffic. I color because I enjoy the final product. But there's something else easing its way into my little hobby. I color to restore some of my own vibrancy. I'm re-membering my creativity.
Granted, filling in a pre-printed page with markers isn't a unique expression of self or anything. But it does offer some foundational elements for developing creativity. I mean both concrete things like choosing colors, establishing patterns, practicing technique with a tool, and intangibles like getting into the “zone,” perceiving something familiar from a different perspective, and engaging imagination and ideation parts of the brain. I’ve missed these parts of myself during these seasons of personal drought.
Coloring again feels to me like planting and tending my creativity. Coaxing it out of dormancy. Bringing it up into my life.
June Moon Visionary Art free online coloring book
Dover Publications offers a diverse array of coloring books
I’ve been looking back over my old blog. Revisiting who I was. Wanting to re-member those ways of seeing and engaging with my life into who I am and how I live, today.
I do this intermittently. Bask in the photos and snippets of texts of who I was. Recall the best parts of those times. I go even further back in my memories, before I had a blog, before Seattle, before Boston…back to the third-floor apartment on Cabot Street. But I’ve yet to successfully reintegrate that young woman’s ways and feelings into this middling woman’s life. Because I can’t go back. Because I need to imagine forward. I need to predict, and choose, and live forward into my days. Into my job. Into my relationships. Into my body. Into my creativity.
Recent years (4 - since the divorce? 7 - since I knew it was coming?) have been so hard with surviving. Work the day-job. Raise the child. Endure, collapse, resume and repeat. Taking care of me has been shortsighted and felt selfish. Mostly, it’s been stolen moments of treats. For a while, it included regular therapy sessions and naturopath appointments. Gradually, I started to stretch the sphere of my days. A new job. Meeting people online. Reconnecting with old acquaintances. Starting a relationship with J. Moving our lives into one house that we own together. Sharing chores, days, lives together.
My sphere has stretched so far that now it’s starting to contract into a new normal, a new routine. It’s settling into familiar. And I want it to. But I also want to choose what my normal routine familiar life is. I’ve already chosen the who (N and J, Miss G and Miss A, Mima and family) and the where (our new house). I’ve chosen the day-job and the school for N. And those are expressions of me but… there’s something else that I’ve been trying to get at.
I look into the past to reclaim my essential Jenni-ness. To re-member me into the life I’m living. The hard years left me feeling dried up and blown away. Parched. Grasping and gasping. So maybe I went into some kind of dormancy or hibernation of sorts. I held onto enough me to make decisions, to love my son, to persevere. I held onto enough me to choose and follow through on changes to my daily life. I held onto enough me to bring me here.
Here is a good place. Here I have a partner I love and appreciate. I have his companionship and support. I have a son who is thriving and loves me. I have a new job that I like and co-workers that I enjoy. I have a house that’s becoming a home. I have the time and the place to rejuvenate and revitalize the rest of me.
Those old photos and words on the blog point me toward how I want to feel. They illustrate some good habits of thought and behavior that I once practiced, which suggests that practice is something I can do. But I’m not going to repeat those feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. They are not the total and finite expression of my essence. I’m still here. Now begins the clumsy, awkward, phase of practicing new things in new ways to be the me that is here, today.
Our living situation isn't exactly something most American families would aspire to. A mom and her tween son living in a one-bedroom apartment?! It wasn't my first choice but it's what I can afford as the executive assistant at a non-profit. And, so, we moved into this tiny space back in December.
Then, a few weeks ago, J did something super special to help us out. He drove out to Ikea, bought us a loft bed for N and a loveseat, hauled it back to our place, and pretty much single-handedly assembled it for us.
Now we have space! Space to sit together during tv-time. Space to tuck all of N's precious things away under the loft. Space to walk through the living room without getting snagged on random pieces of tween-boy treasure.
So, still less than ideal, according to conventional standards. But it's working. And I am grateful.
Me, eating an egg McMuffin, at the beach, in my car, alone, on a Saturday afternoon. This instance of peace and luxury thanks to a fine young man called The Babysitter.
Here is Little N with Slim and Brother Justin enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning.
It was such a leisurely Sunday morning that I got to sleep in until 8-ish. We stayed at J's Saturday night after a 4-hour playdate with G and her family. Pizza and a movie later and Little N was sound asleep. Only to rise early, with the cats, and then J, while I slept on. happy sigh.
Happy too, to note that N's behavior toward me improved a little after a call with his dad. N heard that he was going a little too far in his treatment of me and some of his classmates. He is still impatient and quick to anger, but he's eased up on his verbal abuse of me.
So we enjoyed a playdate with G's two boys. We enjoyed hanging out for the evening at J's. Little N put down the iPad and enjoyed imaginary games in J's house, which he wishes was ours. He enjoyed pizza, a raucous movie, sleeping in a big bed by himself, with maybe a cat or two. And I enjoyed my son.
It's a beginning. It's a sign, I hope, that we're in a change. I anticipate bumps. I'm seeking additional support in the form of a counselor for N. And I'm holding onto my hope of N learning how to manage big emotions, like anger, like reactions to change and loss. Holding onto my hope of knowing my son throughout this transition and continuing our relationship, on good terms, on the other side of this.
This is what 40-ish years of friendship looks like!
But what do I see? In my vanity, I see me. I see pudgy fingers, too full face-chin-neck, an oversize sweatshirt stretched over the too round belly. I see fluffy white old lady hair. This is not the me I want to see. This me doesn't look like... me.
Little N picks on me mercilessly about my current weight and size. He calls me "fatty" and criticizes my too big butt. His father, L, didn't talk to me exactly that way, but he, too, made it clear to me that I didn't look the way that he wanted me to. According to him, and to Little N, I used to be beautiful. I must complete an ambitious series of changes in a short amount of time in order to be beautiful... and worthy, and not teased or criticized, and good enough, again.
Usually I can resist the harsh criticism of my appearance. I can say back that I'm working on my health and that human bodies change with age. I can tell myself that the ideal they are comparing me to is a societal norm and unrealistic. But then I see a photo of myself and I'm startled and sad to see what I've become.
I don't like how I look.
I don't need to look young. Right? I need to look like me. So what does "me" look like at 40+? What do I want my physical appearance to convey to my partner, my friends, my critics, and everyone else about myself?
I want to exude qualities like: capable, competent, strong, smart, creative, present, attentive, real, genuine. Translating these things into cultural or societal parlance is tricky. Because so often they are only seen as young and thin. I'm not getting younger. I may get thinner but I doubt I'll ever be thin again. So how and where do I, as me, show up?
There's another piece to this besides how I look. I'm 43 and a half. My father was 44 when he died. So I've set myself a goal of practicing good health habits in such as way that they're my baseline lifestyle by 44. Roughly six months to adopt all the good information I've learned from the naturopath and therapist and make it mine. Make it me. Six months to transform my body inside and out.
It took years for my body to take on its current appearance. Years of struggling with an unsupportive spouse. Working dead end jobs. Wrestling with my mental health. Comforting myself with food. Flailing in the absence of the skills and information necessary to make my body healthy.
So I don't expect six months to return me to a lithe 120-ish pound size four with a lustrous bob and stylish clothes. I do expect to improve my bloodwork for sugars and cholesterol. Shed a few pounds. Drop a size (or two...). Decrease my windedness. Increase my stamina. Live a more active lifestyle. And generally feel more like me.
My hope is that when I feel more like me, then I'll look more like me. A makeover from the inside out. Where the inside is more important and urgent, and the outside is granted patience and grace. From me, to me.
I've been sick for about 2 weeks now. I'm not as sick today as I was a week ago. I'm back at the office. I'm holding things together. But weighing me down more than illness is Little N.
He's angry. Every evening after school. Every morning when he wakes. At me.
When I pick him up from school he swears at me and flips me off, calls me names, teases me about my weight, tells me that I'm dumb, erupts at anything I say, any move I make. When he rises in the morning he bellows for me to get up and starts issuing demands. It's near constant. It's exhausting. It's wrong.
His anger is justified but misdirected and abusive. He wants to be with his dad. His dad has moved out of state. He blames me. For everything. All day.
I don't know how to correct him. To let him feel his anger, get it out, and treat me with respect, all at the same time. The questions stew and stir in my mind and my heart.
I feel like I've lost my son. To his anger. To his father. Will I, how will I, reclaim our relationship? Is there any coming back from this?
There's a line in an Ani song, "We never see things changing, we only see them ending." I hope that this is the pain of things changing. And not the grief of an ending.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
I began posting here in April 2014. Please visit the original site for the rest of the story on topics like: