Pieces of me

A blog for the warriors

Old barn in Pangburn, Arkansas

For spring break, the children and I took a trip to my hometown in Arkansas. The kids were taken aback by the rust and decay of so many buildings in rural Arkansas. The weathering and littering of front porches intrigued them as such is not common where we live. In fact, our first night, they insisted on driving around a 601-population town.

The scenery was all so novel to them. To me, it felt familiar and abnormal at the same time, as “going home” trips can feel.

I felt oddly drawn to the rusted metal roofs, the sagging front porch, the collapsed drainage ditch. It felt like my youth, both in familiarity and age. Dreams and beliefs long abandoned. Colors faded and turned to gray. Establishments replaced by new shinning ventures, hoping to fair better and longer than the one I knew.

When I first lived here, I was growing and bright and bendable. The countryside meant adventure to me, then. Now, I see lack. Phrases like “fly over states” float to the top of my consciousness. I see the deep divide of culture and experience and opportunity which causes people to talk past each other.

My kids thought the broken, empty houses and buildings were sad. I thought “they just are.” Nothing lasts forever. I see socio-political forces behind the small town’s rust. I see my own past fading in the rust.

Decaying like my right knee which occasionally “acts up,” as old folk say. Ruined like the innocent belief in Santa. Abandoned like notions that I can be anything I put my mind to or racism is dead.

But none of it made me sad. It just was. It’s just the progression of time. No one can believe in Santa forever, and one grows old or dies young.

It’s the passage of time that destroys, but it doesn’t make me sad this time. This time, I look at what was and know naïve ideas cannot withstand the reality that comes with maturity any more than a metal roof can withstand rust.

The dreams of a young country girl roaming the outskirts of Searcy, Arkansas have died, changed, and matured. But it doesn’t make me sad. It’s just what time does.

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Scarlet salvia in the foreground. Gaillardia in the background.

Spring has sprung. I’m gardening again. What was once deemed “my therapy” had become another activity that I couldn’t muster doing. Why is it so easy to stop the healthy habits in our life?

Nevertheless, the need for a outlet coupled with inheriting several new plants has gotten me back in the dirt.

Goldenrod

I know this is just one woman’s opinion, but I feel strongly that yellow flowers are the happiest. They make me the happiest, at least.

As I struggle to maintain my growth mindset in the avalanche of another bout of depression, I find my garden instructive. The cyclical nature of growth and death and reseeding feel like recovery, and hell, just life. Perhaps, I wonder, as I pull out dead stems and notice the new seedlings poking through the mulch, perhaps if I didn’t fight this cycle in my life I’d be more at peace.

Coontie with scarlet salvia volunteers in the lower left.

There’s no judgment for the annual whose season is spent. The dry months are not chastised and fought against, but quietly endured. Sure, everything seems more alive when the rains of spring turn seeds and bulbs into a new round of color, but the time it took to arrive is accepted.

My favorite reseeding Florida native flower, gaillardia (aka blanket flowers).

So, I remind myself as I enjoy the beauty of this season that there’s beauty in the whole cycle that brought it. I know eventually this will end and there will be withering and death, but it’s not a failure. Just a season.

I try to soak it in and stop judging the seasons and cycles of my life when associations wither and die. When the new pops up. When the weeds must be removed. When a whole patch just won’t take root. When a tender young growth needs more nurturing than expected.

Whether good or bad, it’s just a season.

Wild coffee with sunshine mimosa growing through. I love how nature makes it’s own designs in my garden like this one.

My dad died on April 17, 2011. This is the anniversary month. Obviously, it’s not a celebratory anniversary like others. No mushy, look how far we’ve come babe, cards are exchanged on death anniversaries. There’s no looking forward to the next eight, like with a wedding anniversary.

However, anyone with a deceased loved one is well aware of this lack-luster anniversary.

When April rolls around, I always begin dwelling more on my dad’s passing. This year, however, it’s already been in the forefront of my mind. A dear friend lost her father recently. Everyone’s relationships and loss and reactions are unique, of course. Nonetheless, walking beside my friend as she’s been thrust onto this path has pushed my consciousness to my early days of grappling with the shock and haze.

Is haze a feeling?

Haze was certainly a state I went through, and have seen on others. I’m sure there’s some psychological term for it, and I seem to recall being told that it’s a defense mechanism to protect the psyche.

In my layman’s terms, though, the haze helps you ease into the void that is is the “new normal” in your life.

The haze numbs just enough to allow you to get out of bed (albeit at noon) and make funeral arrangements. The haze mutes you so that when everyone keeps going about their daily life, you don’t scream at their audacity to live life when you are now fatherless.

Seriously, I wanted to accost strangers at the grocery store and shake them for buying bread like this was just another Tuesday. I wanted to tell everyone every where I went that I no longer had a daddy.

I was 35 with a husband and kids, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to not have a daddy and people needed to know that! They needed to know that I still needed him to call and ask to speak to two toddlers who didn’t want to or know how to properly conduct a telephone call. I’d roll my eyes at these requests and try to hold the phone close enough to my daughter as she bounced on the couch and dutifully repeated the words I fed her. “Hi, Popa!” “I miss you too.” “I’m playing dinosaurs.”

I’d run after the boy and try to at least get him to say “I love you, Popa” loud enough for Daddy to hear and chuckle over. He probably knew what an inconvenience it was for me to try to get the children to talk to him, but that probably just made him chuckle all the harder. Pay backs are a bitch, some might say. Now, my dad wouldn’t use that kind of language, but he’d sure chuckle and that was the same thing.

In the early days, the haze was so thick I’d think about those phone calls and pick up the phone intent on calling him. Somehow, in the distortion of the haze I thought I could simultaneously feel the pain of his loss and call and tell him about it.

The haze hadn’t let me wade out far enough into the depths of grief to comprehend that those two things couldn’t be done.

People felt awkward around me. I could feel it through the haze. I didn’t help. I wanted to talk about my dad, a lot. I could tell others didn’t know what to say about my stories. They looked anxious, like they were holding a delicate knickknack, which they would rather put away safe behind glass.

I have a proclivity for speaking in stories anyhow. The ebb and flow of casual conversation has never been a strength. During the haze, my social inadequacies were magnified. I wanted to tell stories, even the worst, icky parts of taking Daddy off life support, but no one wanted to listen to those stories. (My dad’s advice on what to say to the grieving can be found here.)

I had no interest in anything other than my loss. All I had, or so it felt, were my stories. Moreover, talk of anything else would crack the haze and chill me with the reality that time was still in motion.

Some people get mad at God. Some a person or force that caused the death. Some the deceased himself.

I was most angry with time.

I was mad that it couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough for me to wrap my head around what had just happened. I needed more time with my dad. He never got to visit us in south west Florida. I needed more time to grieve before having to talk about something other than him.

I needed less of the new time without him. Time wasn’t giving me anything! Callously, it just kept moving forward dragging me in my head fog along for the ride.

Over the next 12 months, the haze came and went. Time brought birthdays, holidays, and random afternoons when I’d forget (yes, straight up forget) he was gone. For two blissful seconds, I would pick up the phone to call him. Then, I would end up in a pile of tears, cursing the haze for not being there to cushion this fall.

This April makes eight years he’s been gone. It seems like such a long time, but the anniversaries always bring a bit of the haze and time hating with it.

On the 17th, I’ll remind myself how he would say with regards to difficult times that you can laugh about it or cry about it, but he prefers to laugh. I will decide to laugh that day. I will tell the children some of his silly sayings, like answering the phone with “Yellow?” Their memories of him are just my stories, but they oblige me. I will embrace enough of the haze to get by and then, tuck it away for another time its services are needed.

I respect the haze. I know I can’t live there, but it has good intentions. I appreciate that.

For the children’s spring break last month, I visited his grave. I did it without thinking or preparing. I walked up to the large grey stone with my maiden name at the top without considering I might need the haze. My eyes immediately caught fire, and I instinctively tried to fight them to no avail.

No, no, no, I thought, I’ve got this. I’m good. I just swung by cause I “should.” It’s just a place. I don’t need to cry anymore. Damn it, where’s the haze?

But it was too late. I had gone in without my safety net and my eyes and nose both flooded despite my attempts to dam up the emotional release.

So, I did what people do. With a raspy, quivering voice, I spoke to a rock. A rock that represented all that the haze tries to cushion for me. I rubbed my eyes and nose like an overtired toddler and let it all out.

After, I stood shaking and in awe of the depth of grief and love. Time will continue to do what it does, but as long as I love my daddy, there will be grief. And try as it might, the haze cannot shield all the pain, and time cannot erase the love.

So we are left to cry, to feel hazy, but most importantly to keep loving.

Anxiety floods my brain, washing out all calm, peace, and motivation.

Depression weighs me down like a blanket.

Stress tucks it in around me.

My bed becomes a comforting prison.

Guilt proves an impotent weapon.

The resulting exhaustion pushes the snowballing further along.

I know it isn’t me you are calling beautiful.

This isn’t my first day in this packaging.

Brown paper tied up with twine. It doesn’t evoke praise.

Come closer, though, and see what’s beneath.

I will not leave you to shine my colors to all the world.

Come closer and see that I have a passionate fire burning below the surface.

Come closer and know that my beauty doesn’t lie in what your eyes see but in how I can make you feel.

Come closer and see that my worth doesn’t arise from my aesthetic.

I attract people by showing my concern for them.

Many find my honesty beautiful. My kindness invigorating. My loyalty a solace.

Come closer and you may realize I establish my own worth from within.

Meme with crown: Get comfortable being uncomfortable

Today is the legendary Black author, Toni Morrison’s 88th Birthday. If you are not a fan of hers, I’d be willing to bet you have not read much or any of hers.

About a month ago, I wrote this piece, ON MLK’S HOLIDAY, I’M ASKING WHITE FOLK TO GET UNCOMFORTABLE. Therein, I encourage introspection and listening in these times of racial tension. I truly believe that we need to do more listening to voices that differ from ours in order to be our best selves.

If that means something to you and you have not (or even for those of us who have), today is a good day to start one of Morrison’s glorious portrayals of Black America.

Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind. – Toni Morrison

Her writing took me to a world that I didn’t know or understand. Her words seeped into my pores, allowing me to feel and experience that world that I have never lived in and never will. Her characters play out themes and ideas with a skill level few have achieved, but in an effortless way for the reader to absorb.

Ms. Morrison has a gift that she has shared with the world. Don’t miss out on it. Open up Song of Solomon or Paradise and surrender to the world she wants to share with you.

Don’t impose your world view on it. Don’t judge it by your limited experiences. Embrace that which is foreign and maybe uncomfortable, at first. If you do, you will soon enjoy it. Sit with it. Soak in it, and let yourself grow as a human in this wildly, rich, and complicated world.

Happy birthday, Toni Morrison.

Where to start with Toni Morrison Books.

Love is elusive sometimes when we seek only romantic love.

But love is patient. Love is kind, and that may be easier to find.

The “why don’ts” fall off the tongue so easily, like little truth bombs.

Why doesn’t my partner do this and that? Why doesn’t he notice this or why doesn’t she understand that?

They are accusation bombs that feel like truth to a thirsty soul, but they are not patient or kind.

Love is more than the facts of interactions between two souls.

Love is a kiss goodbye when your hair is greasy and unkempt. That’s patience.

Love is a ham and cheese omelette that stuck to the pan, but tasted better than it looked. That was kindness.

Today, I choose to look for the patience and the kindness my partner shows me. Because in those I find the love my “he doesn’t” accusations miss.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s February, the love month. While the commercialization of the holiday can be off-putting, there’s no reason to forgo the opportunity to focus on love.

My dad was a preacher, so excuse me a moment while I geek out, or Greek out, to be exact. In Greek, there are several words for love. Philia is friendship love. Eros is romantic love, and apage is unconditional love.

In English, we say we love pizza and that new series on Netflix, and then use the same word to talk about how we feel about our kids or other loved ones. We all know there is a huge degree of difference in the feelings we have for objects as opposed to people. Moreover, we love our best friend differently than we do a significant other.

However, during this love month, let’s be more mindful of those deep connected feelings we have for our friends and family. It is and it should be different than how we feel about our favorite pair of leggings (although, that’s a special feeling too).

I found a great idea on momsoftweensandteens.com. It’s a simple idea. Put a heart on your kids’ door every day in February telling them all the things you love about them.

It’s been helpful in making me focus on my love for my kiddos. I won’t lie, though, it’s been a bit challenging. Loving my kids is pretty easy, but articulating a specific aspect about them every day that I love and appreciate is not something I’ve ever done. I don’t know what they are getting out of it, but I am having to stop and think about it.

But that’s why I recommend the exercise. We’re so busy chauffeuring them to activities and doing homework and projects and trying to get them to eat right and not melt their brains with too much screen time. These things we do for and with our kids (family) are all outgrowths of our love for them. They aren’t bad things, but the business keeps us from stopping and being mindful of why we love them.

So, whether you decorate your kids’ doors with paper hearts or not (or even have kids), I do hope you find a way to slow down and think about your love for the people in your life. Think about why you love. Think about how you show your love. Think about the importance of that love.

Happy Blogiversary to pieces-of-me.com! Don’t you love made-up words? But it has been a year since I dusted off this website which I had opened in 2014 thinking I would use it to tell kid and gardening stories. I wrote This is Me, and just kept writing.

Inspiration

In the background, I was being inspired by Jen Sincero‘s book You’re a Bad Ass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Live an Awesome Life. It was therein that I found the permission I somehow thought I needed to do things I love, like write.

Then, I moved on to Mel Robbins’ The 5 Second Rule and that turned into a 30-day experiment in blogging every day in June. See #30daysofGrowth. In six months, I went from “I feel inspired to tell some stories” to “I’m going to push myself way out of my comfort zone.”

Second Half

At the end of the summer, I focused on getting published on other blogs, which helped me connect to a lot of new readers and find more quality blogs for my own reading enjoyment.

I had the following three articles published on three other blogs:

Don’t Push Your Embarrassment Down: Embrace the Burn

Dear Mothers of Tween Girls, There’s So Much at Stake

Why We Need to Stop Hiding and Share the Beauty in our Brokenness

The year ended busy and less focused on my writing than I would have liked. That’s clearly an area to grow as this year begins.

2019

Personally, my 2019 has started off less than stellar. In fact, some friends and I are planning a new, New Year celebration for this weekend. While we needn’t “start over” every time life deals a bad hand, the point, as discussed in The Fresh Start Effect, is that a temporal landmark is helpful in changing one’s mindset. But it can be as simple as a walk around the block, but drinks with friends is fun!

As I move forward this year I’m hoping to post on a more consistent time table. I’ve plotted out ideas for each month this year to help keep me on track. I’m also planning on publishing on outside sites again, as that was a great way to interact with more people.

Hands down, the best part of this past year’s blogging adventure has been the emails or private messages from friends and strangers telling me how something I wrote personally touched them. That’s what it’s all about. Connecting with others and feeling a little less alone in our struggles and joys.

Bring it 2019, or new 2019!

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