Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 6.51.03 PM
GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

A Journey and a Process

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There were concerns.

There was knowing without any professional confirmation. We knew, though.

There were doctor’s appointments.

There were assessments.

There was Early Intervention through Kids on the Move.

There was a scheduling for a screening. The earliest possible date was in July.

There were more assessments.

There was an IEP with a panel of special education preschool teachers.

There was special preschool.

There is progress.

There was a cancellation from someone else, which meant an opening for an earlier screening at the University of Utah.

There was a psychiatrist. And play. And observation.

There is a diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now we are here.

And now there’s more.

Unknown territory for us, but we’re damn good parents that will give the absolute best to our daughter that we can.

Thank you all for your continued love and support and patience for our little girl.

There you are.

 

’80s Basement Lecture Series, 18 Feb 2017: Satire

About a month ago I was feeling nostalgic about NYC, as I sometimes do, and I remembered that my friend Brook started a lecture series there where she would invite various experts to talk about their specialties. It all started in her living room with a small group then grew into an impressive crowd. She called it the Living Room Lecture Series.

This memory sparked in me a desire to copy her. I texted some friends to see what they thought:

Hey, friends! I’m thinking of starting a quarterly lecture series at my house. Maybe 20-minute talks, followed by discussion and treats. The lectures would come from us and cover a variety of topics. Reilly could talk about Family Guy, Maddie could discuss writing copy or songs, Kylie poetry or Ndichie, Jon film, etc. You don’t have to lecture if you don’t want to. Does this sound fun? Would you support this?

The replies:

  • OH MY HELL. I would ADORE THIS.
  • I strongly support this message.
  • YES!
  • If kids are welcome I’m totally interested. We used to do something similar in DC and I love that kind of thing! Also I’m also interested without the kid. Both ways, totally interested.

So we set a date and time, which was February 18 at 7:30pm. I thought about holding these meetings in our basement, which has wood paneling and strange patchy brown carpet from the ’80s. I decided to call this thing the ’80s Basement Lecture Series. Genius, I know.

This past Saturday the guests arrived, and we gave them a tour of our home. Then we ate some pizza and got really drunk. JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO PIZZA. Just kidding, we had a lot of pizza and zero alcohol.

We headed down to the basement. I introduced Reilly, and he gave a terrific lecture about satire and its evolution on television over the past 30 years. He defined indirect and direct satire, using Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as examples. He hinted a quick comparison of Tomi Lahren and Samantha Bee. He showed clips from the Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. We had a fascinating discussion about the current political climate and people who don’t get satire. And we discussed the purpose of satire: in what ways does it motivate us to act/speak/think? It was a lot of fun.

I looked at the group of us and wondered: Are THESE the people I like hanging out with, slightly strayed, slightly jack-Mormon AND incredibly faithful, moderate-to-left-leaning, super smart, extremely big-hearted; socially conscious, ever eager agents of change to make the world a better place?

Yes, YES.  A frillion times yes.

The conversation, their presence, their intelligence and spirit: I basked in it all.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s great bringing people together to share ideas and foster and strengthen friendships. But I may have started this lecture series just for me. Selfish little me.

Can’t wait for the next meeting.

“Who’s your friend that likes to play?”

There is a scene in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out where Bing Bong is sad because his space rocket has been thrown away. Joy needs to get to headquarters and tries to cheer him up by being happy and silly, but Bing Bong keeps being sad and won’t tell her how to get to the Train of Thought. Then Sadness walks up to Bing Bong and tells him she’s sorry that his rocket his gone, that it must have meant a lot to him. She gives him a hug, he cries on her shoulder, and he opens up to her. Joy tries to interrupt to say there’s not time for that, but once Bing Bong has someone to sympathize with him, he says he feels better and points to where they can catch the Train of Thought. On their way, Joy asks Sadness, “Hey, how’d you do that?” Sadness starts, “Well, I just -” and then the train arrives.

We know how she did it.

Sometimes all I want is to talk about my problems. My feelings. It helps me feel better to have someone listen and not want to jump in with solutions. Just to be there, to reassure me, to be supportive or say something like, “I’m sorry that happened.” Or “I know how that feels.” Or “What a sucky situation.”

I know what the solutions are. It’s not like I haven’t done the research, and the new information often can overwhelm me with yet more things I can do wrong or have failed at. More often than not I have applied this new information and am still frustrated. There are situations where I feel utterly helpless; there are times when I need to feel the uniqueness of an experience in my life before understanding that others have traveled a similar journey. This is when I can best feel the support of humanity, once I peek out of my self-involved bubble and am reminded that I am not alone.

It might just be certain personalities to offer fixes right away. And it’s definitely my accommodating personality to accept these people while still feeling horrible inside. Yes, thank you for trying to help, but that’s not what I need. Yes, I will feel better soon, but I first need to be allowed to feel sad/helpless/frustrated/embarrassed. That’s a part of my process, and it helps me in the long run if I don’t dismiss it or diminish it in any way.

Of course I try not to be melodramatic or overreact, and I’m resilient.

A not-so-heavy example: Yes, I’ve been complaining the past seven weeks about my cold. But should one suffer with a cold for that long? Should I rearrange my life around coughing, since it has wedged itself into my schedule? Should I just say “Oh, well” when my ribs are bruised from coughing so violently and for so long? No. But these things have happened to me, and I plan to get through them and to rise up stronger and more determined than before.

But for now, my body still needs to expel phlegm. But when I do this, or laugh, or take deep breaths, it hurts my ribs on the left side.

What’s my process? First, whine about it. Check: I’ve told several people, who range in sympathy, from: “Have you been checked for pneumonia?” to “Oh, man, I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Next, process this feedback. I’m glad that I could tell people who were willing to listen. I’m grateful for those who stepped back and truly sympathized/empathized. And I’m learning to be grateful for the form of concern people offer as suggestions or solutions. People mean well. And people have different points of reference.

Next, question myself: Wait, what am I doing trying to understand the people I want to understand me? Why does this feel like a bigger effort from me all of a sudden?

Next, return to feeling grateful: People love me, and they care.

Next, keep on keeping on: I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and food and exercise. I’m going to work hard at work and be a good mom and wife and friend, one day at a time. Hopefully enough days pass to heal my ribs and make my cough go away.

Any time along the way, this process could repeat itself any number of times.

I’m well aware others are in far worse situations. The not-so-heavy example of my bruised ribs partly serves to imply that much heavier issues are going on in my life. I’ve talked to some people about those issues, implemented these very steps of handling my emotions and becoming stronger and moving forward with my life. The sadness, helplessness, and frustration would be a much greater burden without this process.

It’s a blessing to share these clunkier and unpleasant parts of my life with the people who mean the most to me. Thank you for being there.

 

Heartfelt Concern

This past month has found so many of you in the hospital.

I have a friend who gave birth at the beginning of the month to a baby boy with HLHS. He recently underwent surgery and seems to be doing well. If he’s as determined and courageous and faithful as his mom, he’ll do just fine. You can follow their journey here.

A couple weeks ago, one of my best friends from high school was feeling some odd sensations in her chest and went to the ER to have it checked out, just in case. She found out that she had a heart attack and would be staying in the hospital to have a coronary spontaneous dissection monitored. She’s home now and seems to be doing much better.

Then some of you have checked into the hospital with chest pain or fevers or respiratory issues or brain surgery. Some time ago one of you went in for spine surgery. Someone I know is undergoing chemotherapy and may have had her kidney removed. Some of you have been in accidents and are going through rehab.

Some of you still need a flu shot.

My dad has a weak heart and dementia and won’t take his medicine, though from what I hear, he likes where he’s staying right now.

Mom and my brother seem especially susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis, respectively. And mom’s husband still seems to be recovering from knee surgery he had a while back.

And there are lots of friends who have delivered babies or are due within the next few months. Some of them have experienced post-partum depression. Some of them work really hard to meet the needs of their families. Some of them are struggling a lot with motherhood in general.

There are some whose afflictions I don’t know anything about at all.

But I think about you. I’m here if you need a listening ear.

And I pray for all of you.

On Conversation and Small Talk

“A friend of mine once said that you can never trust a person who doesn’t talk much, because how else do you know what they’re thinking? Just by the act of being willing to talk about oneself, the person is revealing something about who they are.”

— Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur

Almost everyone I knew in high school observed two main modes of speaking from me: Snide comments and occasional insights. This did not count raising my hand if I had the correct answers to teachers’ questions. I made friends slowly at that time, and those patient enough to stick around discovered that I was also capable of thinking deeply, even though I didn’t often verbalize my thoughts.

How did I process reality back then, that version of life trapped inside a high school bubble? I listened. I observed. This is how I found out about THE shocking moment of the Crying Game during trigonometry. One of my classmates saw the movie at the theater, and she could not wait to talk about it at school the next day.

Observing is also how I found out that band members M (girl, drum major) and T (boy, trumpet player, OF COURSE) may have had a thing for each other. M was a senior and T was a junior. I was a sophomore. After school one day, the band waited for our band director to return from somewhere and start rehearsal. I was practicing my part in one of the instrument rooms. Minding my own business. Then M and T ran in, oblivious to everything. T closed the door and had M pressed against it with his body. Then they started making out.

I watched for a few seconds, and I wondered if I should keep playing my clarinet. I decided that was better than watching. When I played the first few notes, T and M stopped what they were doing. I tried not to look at them but to keep playing. After a few seconds, one of them opened the door and they both left the room.

Beyond high school and into college and the real world, I continued the habits of listening and observing. I liked talking about myself, but I would only do it when people asked me questions. But I also loved asking other people questions and getting to know them better.

This was fun to do in college and especially New York City. I found myself in several settings with complete strangers. After a few questions, some laughs, and some observations about how we ended up in New York, we discovered valuable commonalities that became the foundation for friendship.

I never liked small talk, and because of this, friendshipping in the big wide world pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I always did better if people were willing to jump into deeper subjects more quickly, I also observed that small talk was some people’s starting point for meatier conversation. In some cases, if I couldn’t stick around past small talk, bonds would only form at that level.

Not everyone was like me; not everyone would work the same way my high school friends and I did to maintain our relationship. I would have to manipulate a paradox and give interpersonal space at the same time as internalizing the world around me, bringing different perspectives within my grasp.

Over time, I practiced and became good at small talk. Because I had worked on my observation skills for so long, I could read a person, initiate a conversation and make subtle adjustments to keep the discussion going. It felt great.

More time passed and maybe I fell out of practice or took it for granted, because suddenly it seems now that I suck at talking to people. Wires crossed somewhere and created a short and my conversation skills are no longer where they used to be. Although I can still listen and observe, it’s harder for me sustain my side of the conversation with actual spoken words. I’ll occasionally interject a question or a snide remark, but while I listen I also close up. Or go back to the safe space of small talk. Which I hate. But it’s safe. Defense mechanism, definitely. But why? and how can I get past it?

Part of it is that I can sym-/empathize, but sometimes I don’t know how to express that. Or I don’t know what’s appropriate. Or that if I try to relate, I’d be saying and revealing too much about myself when the conversation isn’t about me. I think that goes beyond introverted tendencies.

Obviously, I have no trouble writing about myself.

In general, people have been so willing to let me know more about them. I need to reciprocate. I have been selfish for so long, and I have to be better.

So, how about this weather?

Sharing News

One of my favorite things in the world is to be happy for other people. I love to hear of your good news. If I’ve been to your wedding, my overwhelming happiness for you spills through abundant tears. If you’ve told me about a promotion, a new pet, good grades, a book deal or publication, I’ve cheered for you. I will listen to you all day about your process, your goals, the roller coaster of emotions as you worked hard. I will hold your new baby or see your name in print or go to your concerts and be excited for your life and proud to be your friend. I will do my best to imagine myself in your situation, to understand your delight, your elation. Mostly I will be happy for you simply because you are so happy.

On the other hand, I’ve also been a sym/empath for many of your sadnesses and struggles. I have friends who still wait for the right person to marry. A woman in my ward has experienced eight miscarriages. Others who are dear to me experience difficult trials of infertility and have even faced devastating challenges within the adoption system. These are friends who have lived well and achieved much; friends with kind hearts and truly righteous desires. It’s hard not to ask, “What gives?”

I have wept for friends who have lost pets and loved ones. On my honeymoon, I received a text that a friend’s rabbit had died. Not long after, I received another text saying that a friend’s little dog had to be put to sleep. Most recently, a friend whose dog I had known for ten years also had to be put down. I cried for them all.

Sometimes people my misinterpret my crying. Once I was at a friend’s wedding where the couple gave hugs to the attendants after the ceremony. I was single in my 30s at the time, which is nothing to be ashamed of. When it was my turn to hug the couple, the new wife looked at me after I congratulated her and told her how happy I was for her and told me that I would find someone. While it was nice of her to think outside of her happiness in that moment, I sensed the assumption that I was not happy as a single person. It felt like they felt that I was miserable, which wasn’t the case at all.

Within the past decade, I observed a situation where a friend was telling another friend about her first truly viable pregnancy. She had experienced several miscarriages and was excited that her most recent pregnancy had gotten past the point of her previous miscarriages. The friend with whom she shared this news was having trouble getting pregnant, and she felt hurt that this friend would dangle the good news of a pregnancy in her painful void.

People are definitely entitled to their space to grieve. They need time to process, and one of the greatest efforts I’ve made in my life is to understand the sadness and sorrow of friends, family, and people in general. Because I respect and deeply love them, I want to show my support in the best way. I have observed people (myself among them) offering condescending advice and platitudes that, while well-intentioned, do not help.

Do I offer perfect advice all the time? Hardly. Have I been insensitive to others’ situations? Often. Too many times I’ve commented on pregnancy or adoption or marriage or other touchy topics to friends, and those friends have gotten quiet, and I’ve realized too late that I said an immensely stupid thing. And then I try to apologize and they continue to withdraw and I don’t know what else to do or say. Maybe the timing was bad; maybe healing wasn’t complete. Maybe certain adversity is just hard, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t fully understand or make it better or say the right thing.

There are tons of people who aren’t married, or can’t have children, or have had other horrible things happen to them. Do we tell them to get over it already? We need to see that our experiences are unique to us, and there seems to be a fine line between offering advice that could apply to general, unknown masses, lessening the significance of the situation and encouraging the individual soul you deeply love. There also seems to be a balance between overcoddling and trusting in a friend’s faith and resilience.

A couple months ago, a friend’s family shared some wonderful news on Facebook. The love and support poured in from this family’s community, and the anticipation that came with this news thrilled everyone.

In the past month, this same family’s good news took a turn and became sad news. The same love and support rushed in and flooded this family’s life. It was truly touching but hardly a surprise. When these people commit to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” they go whole hog. It’s one of the greatest blessings walking the earth with the rest of humanity.

So when I shared my good news this past Tuesday, I was especially grateful to those of you who took a moment from their adversity to show their support for me. Reilly and I are very excited for this new journey, and I debated for a while when would be a good time to make the announcement. Your examples of strength and faith have reminded me how to count blessings and find happiness amid even the darkest circumstances. You believe this; you live it. You share it. That means more than I can say.