FAKING it no more



When Michele sent me a new post to read this weekend, she was so excited to be coming back to the blog. Over the last year or more, she has transformed her life – new job, new status, new path. I am so proud of her.

I wasn’t so sure, though, that I wanted to jump back in. We both write for a living and started Women Overboard because we wanted to throw off our corporate masters and write about what mattered to us. But by this time a year ago, I felt that I was just repeating myself. Since I felt trapped in my life, this made sense: despite my vows that things would change – that I would change them – I never did. I started to feel, frankly, like a bit of a fraud.

But I have a competitive streak. The thought of handing the blog over to Michele, as much as I love her, has been gnawing at me for the last couple of days. It’s our blog. And it wasn’t that I had nothing new to say: My life, too, has taken a 180. From the outside, you’d never know it: I’m still at the same job, at the same company, in the same house, and yes, I’m still single.

So what’s different? I am standing in the same place, but I live in an entirely new landscape. Whereas before I saw nothing but walls, now I see footholds. I have rekindled my dormant creativity. I am increasingly living my own life, instead of someone else’s. Most important, after living for decades in the reflection of women who found me wanting, I finally believe that I am enough just as I am: worthy of success, worthy of praise, worthy of love.

I’ve got a 10-year post-divorce head start on Michele, and I’ve certainly had help. At work, a new boss and new leaders have been champions who offered their full-throated support while challenging me to do more. I’ve had a couple of wonderful therapists, and my friends are amazing. But I’ve done a lot of hard work on my own, and as my childhood scars and years of failed relationships and professional bullying have slowly dissipated, they have re-formed into something completely new: a growing confidence, first attempts to set boundaries, and a slow shedding of the fears that hobbled my everyday existence and kept me from living up to my potential. I’m still a work in progress, and I hope there’s always room for growth.

Years ago, a fellow traveler in a therapy group stopped me one day as we were leaving a meeting. “I don’t get it,” she said. “I keep telling my husband that there’s this woman in our group who’s funny, confident, smart and seems so together that I can’t figure out why she’s in therapy.” It took a few moments to realize that she was talking about me. It took 25 more years to understand her confusion. It remains to be seen whether I can keep finding something new to write about.

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FOOD, frightened by

LASAGNAA day in the new life of me:

I traveled to the scene of a crime last week with a lasagna in my back seat.

As I learned later, I had forgotten to bring it into the house after my daughter’s field hockey banquet the night before, exhausted as I was after the daily quest to juggle a new job at The City Paper and single motherhood.

But I digress … I was sitting in the newsroom that day when I heard “kidnapped baby” on the police scanner. I grabbed a notebook and my car keys and tore off to learn more.

I met up with our photographer on the road and was two inches behind his van as he careened at the speed of lift-off along small side streets and around corners. We were rushing to speak with the mother before the Big City news outlets caught wind of the story.

That’s when I heard the first crash in my back seat.

When I turned right something slid across the seat and smashed into the left passenger door. Left? The opposite and … boom! What the hell?!?

I didn’t want to lose the guy ahead of me so I didn’t risk a backward glance. My first (irrational) thought was there was an animal in the car. I was instantly terrified, having heard something scrabbling in the wall of my 200-plus-year old house the night before.

Then, I wasn’t sure. A hubcab of this new (to me) car shot off for no reason at a stop light recently. Was something breaking?

Stop it! I shouted, to no one. Imagining claws, teeth and hot breath on my neck. Or worse.

When we braked I peered over my shoulder. I felt nervous, as if about to press my face against a hot stove. And there, balancing precariously at the seat’s edge, as if waving hello, was the rectangular glass dish, wrapped in aluminum foil. Seriously?

So, I felt slightly idiotic. But, why wouldn’t my nerves be frayed? It’s been seven years since I’ve worked as a reporter full-time. And I’m still finding my way with work needs, kids’ needs, and, of course, my needs. So, I will cut myself some slack.

In general, things are great. Of course it’s a challenge to get the story during the day, jump in the car when the whistle blows, and race home to put on the parent hat. That relationship is still in the discovery stage, as are so many things around me now.

I haven’t written in this blog for a long, long time as I’ve made the transition to a new job, and a new life. And I have missed it.

But here I am. Finally. And I hope to be seeing more of you.

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FORWARD, venturing

BUTERFLYMy husband and I shared our last dinner as a couple during a blizzard in February.

The house was quiet as we made plans over a meal of chicken pie and salad like a thousand other meals, during countless other storms, over more than two decades of married life.

The difference, of course, being that before this point all our plans had included each other.

I was emotional as the snow piled up outside, feeling the stress of the huge ending that was about to take place not only of the marriage, but of long established familiarity and the unspoken routine.

You get the plates, I’ll get the tongs. You open the wine, I’ll get the glasses. Like in the early years: you check on the kids, I’ll lock the door. All safe and sound in one life. But what happens when that life no longer fits?

No one makes a vow believing that the marriage will end. I certainly didn’t. Forever is a long, long time, and when you are in love, it isn’t long enough. But if the relationship changes, well who expected that? It’s a sucker punch to your hopes and dreams.

The end of my marriage has felt like a death even though the decision was made long before that winter leave-taking. But that doesn’t make it any easier, does it? I have been married for half my life. And I am still amazed that in less than two weeks it will be officially done.

The storms of February are long gone, and I’m adjusting to new routines. Some days have their challenges, believe me, and I’m wrestling an alligator as I learn to install toilet seats, fix the lawn mower, and even open the pool on my own.

I am dealing with my terror of snakes as I wander our ancient basement with a flashlight, checking oil levels and circuit breakers. And I’m wrangling with the bank to find a way to hang onto this place while working around the clock and caring for my youngest, who is here another year before college.

So, yeah, it’s been scary. And daunting. And hard. And once I got so mad I cried. But I’m also happy and peaceful, and excited about the future, feeling more like that scrappy South Shore Irish kid than I have in a while.

When Mindy and I launched this blog almost four years ago we were each on a quest for something we couldn’t quite name, something that was blaringly missing from our lives. Mine, as it turned out, was myself.

But change involved being willing to jump headfirst off a cliff in this, my one and only life, or stay on the ledge — safe and comfortable and full of regrets.

When I look back on my marriage I will find a way to remember and keep the best of it as I let the parts that didn’t work go. I’ll always be grateful for having had the chance to love and to be loved, and to have beautiful children who always light my way.

And though change brought a sad ending to the story, I am learning every day that it’s also bringing me the tools I need to write a wonderful new one, as well.

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FOUND, a life lost and

christmas-starI wouldn’t be exaggerating to say this has been the hardest year of my life.

My closest friends, who went through much of it with me, agree. And now that it’s over, I am ready to show hardship and heartache the door, even though – as the saying goes – I am better for it.

Nobody said reinventing your life would be easy. But I just had no idea. A year and a half ago I woke up from what felt like a long coma, determined not only to make each day count, but live the life meant for me.

Really live it. Not just go through the paces. Not settle. Not pretend it all was OK. And not get to the end wishing that I had taken a stand, or done anything differently. Because then, of course, it is too late.

A metamorphosis like this is illuminating and wonderful, as well as discouraging and sad. My outlets for stress became tennis and yoga, and the belief things couldn’t get worse — which they often did, despite my efforts to stay positive.

Compounding things, my son left for the Army, my teenager had two major surgeries in nine months, and my husband and I made the wrenching decision to end our 23-year marriage. If that wasn’t enough, our beautiful dog suddenly died, I had unexpected personal and financial issues, along with a big, old house that refused to sell — life seemed determined to push me to the breaking point to see what I was made of.

I’m still here, I am happy to report. I have learned that I am stronger than I ever knew. In fact, I not only held it together but I balled up the angst that threatened to overwhelm me, and used the passion instead to write a novel; inspiration comes at the oddest times. We also took in a foster puppy who within days became our own.

Such accomplishments might not stand out to others, but to me they are huge. I have solved problems, one by one, when I would rather have given up. And what I couldn’t fix I have held out to the universe, trusting that spirit, and God, and anyone else out there, will help.

And so, here I am, looking at my 50ish self with a little more pride as this year ends. For having learned to sway, but not break. To hang on to what nourishes me, and lovingly release the rest.

Starting over is terrifying. And, for me, excruciating. Which I hope explains why I have not blogged much, and not at all since October. There were days that I just stared at the blank page, knowing my thoughts were too intimate and painful to try to share.

But then today, for some reason, I felt strengthened and renewed. My feet just sort of led me to my laptop. And as the snow ended and sun streamed in through the window, the words decided to come.

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One sunny and beautiful morning this week — yesterday, in fact — I awoke after a rare solid night of sleep, got into work early and was sailing into my workday with a smile on my face when an inaccurate barb from an arriving colleague about the quality of my mood proved such a self-fulfilling prophecy that I closed my door for the rest of the morning. After relating the episode to a friend via email, she wrote back, “have you tried the Joshua Bell station on Pandora?”

photo of violin


For the uninitiated, Joshua Bell is the preeminent classical violin virtuoso of his age. He happened to attend my alma mater, and I also happened to have studied classical piano for many years as I was growing up, so I know who he is. Even if you don’t know his name, you may have heard about the world-class violinist who played for spare change one morning in the D.C. subway tunnels and was pretty much ignored by the commuters rushing by. That was him. The Washington Post did a story on it and it the accompanying video made its way onto YouTube. It’s a fascinating read.

In any case, I love the violin and, depending on the composer, I love classical music, so off to Pandora.com I trotted. Type “Joshua Bell” into the “station or artist” slot, and they describe his music this way: “features a singing, mellifluous aesthetic, a tranquil mood, a bittersweet sentiment, a well-known composer and a romantic-era style.” Not all of what I heard throughout the day lived up to the quality of Chopin, but within about an hour I felt like someone had slipped me a Valium.

Safely cocooned behind my door, I relaxed. I smiled. The world fell away, and it was just me, the music and my computer screen. It was the happiest day I’ve had at work maybe ever. I was productive, mostly uninterrupted, and immune from the social vagaries of my office mates, who sometimes forget they’re in a workplace and seem instead to think that they inhabit the halls of a sorority, God love them. I finally opened my door, but left the ear buds where they were.

This morning, I again gravitated to Pandora and was immediately treated to the rich, mellifluous renderings of Yo-Yo Ma. My heart rate slowed immediately. My shoulders relaxed. I imagine my blood pressure dropped. As though the station really is Valium, I am hooked. And now, I’m dealing in the stuff: go try it. No charge.

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FOUND strength

I have a handful of friends going through challenging divorces; several more have put at least one behind them. Emancipated myself for over nine years now, there are days when being independent and responsible exhausts me, and I want to curl up into a ball on the couch and have someone make me hot soup and clean up the kitchen afterward. And then go mow the lawn.

yoga strength


But mostly, I have come to cherish my freedom, my re-discovered ability to handle life on my own, and controlling my own schedule and my own space. That feeling of empowerment is exhilarating, and hard-won.

I am so, so lucky. I have a solid, stable job that pays me well, if not extravagantly; wonderful friends who love me, as I do them; a comfortable house I adore and a yard, currently under slow and gradual renovation, that I’m coming to treasure just as much. I’m healthy, and I live in a beautiful region. I have retirement savings (at least until the government collapses). My divorce was amicable, and my ex and I are still in touch occasionally. My problems are first-world problems, although I tend to forget that when I’m yawning at my desk in the middle of the day or picking myself up off the sidewalk when my bad ankle gives out or watching my father lie in a hospital bed. After all, we both have insurance.

I am rarely lonely – the benefit of being an only child who, at mid-life, has lost friends and lovers, jobs and illusions, and gained perspective and wisdom. My life isn’t perfect, and neither am I, but at long last, I accept the former and forgive myself more often than not for the latter.

The biggest difference, though, from my days as a new divorcee is that fear is not my dogged companion. These days, I don’t worry about professional enrichment; it will come. I’m not concerned about unearthing love; I’ll find it when the time is right. Barring disaster, the money will last and the house won’t flood. Yes, there are slings and arrows sure to come my way, but now I know that there’s always a way through. That’s not security that’s found anywhere but deep inside. Sometimes, you just have to clear everything else out to be able to find it.

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FORCE, life a

LAST HYDRANGEAI found some late arrivals in my garden today, long after it seemed to have stopped giving.

A hydrangea along the driveway, framed in faded red for weeks, had produced from dormancy a bloom of brilliant blue among those that had already gone by. Then I noticed a clump of Shasta daisies had suddenly opened by the front porch.

The nights have been cold, with temps in the freeze zone, and the date, obviously, is October. But still, the flowers endure in this show of strength against the odds.

When I look at them, as the leaves begin to fall around the yard, I’m reminded of how resilient we really are, often, more than we know.

Life has been filled with endings lately that have forced some new beginnings. Some changes have been welcomed. Some were inevitable. Others have been hard and scary. Sometimes, when little feels recognizable, I try to remind myself of the old saying that when a door closes in one place, a window opens somewhere else.

When I was a kid I had no idea what that meant, and rolled my eyes at yet another inane thought from the nuns at my school. Now that I am older I see the wisdom, and the truth, that in letting go you open yourself to receive.

LAST DAISYIt’s been a challenging few weeks that includes a bucketload of work up to the gills. Yesterday, I got to my laptop at 7 a.m. and after a handful of appointments and commitments, was still there well after 1.

I woke up with an exhaustion hangover that two huge cups of French roast couldn’t cure. Then, as I was driving my daughter to school, I saw the flowers, and I felt refreshed, remembering that good things never fail to come to good people.

I am thankful for the simple blessings I have received lately — whether in uplifting notes from friends, or the offer of warm hugs from my teenager who has a sixth sense for when I need them. And, as I saw today, in this unexpected new beauty, the not-so-subtle reminder that — like the flowers — I am stronger than I think, and everything is going to be OK.

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FLUSH with change

Courtesy of the University of Vermont

Courtesy of the University of Vermont

I was going through my phone this week, cleaning out contacts, deleting photos, and giving unused apps the heave-ho. I needed to make room for the new operating system, which refused to download, as jumbled as things were.

The task dovetailed with the urge I get this time of year to clean up and clean out, leaving myself with only the absolute necessities as summer turns to fall.

While I was purging, I came across a list of F words I apparently jotted down at least a year ago or more. I don’t remember doing it, but I can imagine myself grabbing a moment after deadlines, or during a break as the kids’ chauffeur, or even in those groggy last seconds before sleep when I try to capture ideas that are intent on slipping away.

The list covered ground I’ve been thinking about for a while, like FIGHTING for the life you want and deserve, and FRAGILITY in making changes that might hurt.

There was FEAR that the going will be hard, FAITH to take it moment by moment, FOREVER knowing you have what it takes to succeed, and finally, and so true as it has turned out, that FRIENDS will get you through.

I’m amazed, looking back, how words that probably poured from me in frustration eventually triggered a massive personal transformation. It is one thing to write about how you want to change, emotionally and otherwise, and another thing altogether to make it happen.

The day we started this blog, almost three years ago now, I felt like I had awakened from a long, deep sleep where everything in my life had changed and I was damned if I knew how, or why, or even what to do about it.

But then it’s easy to feel like you are in a foreign land when you reach mid-life. There’s a panic when you realize how time has flown and the focus turns to where you are going, rather than where you’ve already been.

I’ve found a lot of my answers although some still elude me. Some routes were easy. Bang. Done. But most times, I had to take the long way around. Which left me exhausted, but grateful. Not only for each breath I take and every single beautiful thing I notice as I work to live in the moment, but for lessons learned that have forced me to dig deep and set a course.

Cleaning house feels good, whether it’s as simple as organizing a new phone system or the more complicated task of sorting through and releasing what no longer fits your life. As hard as it is, it’s the only way to make room for the things that really do.

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caliblankieIf only people could be more like dogs. Kind. Loyal. Committed to a fault. Always playful and interested. How about a treat? I really love you … was that a squirrel? Oh yeah. Back to you. I love you. So much.

You are either a dog person, or you aren’t. Some people run for the hills when a dog comes along. Oh. Ick. Dirty. Smelly. Others (like me) kneel with open arms for the wet kisses and hugs. Smells like a wet blanket? Good! Love it.

I’ve learned a lot from my dogs over the years. Like all you really need in life are the basics. Food. Water. A treat now and then. Some toys. Affection. And unconditional love.

There was a day about three years ago when I was lost in grief. My faithful dog had just died, not so long after my mother. I wondered how much sadness a person can bear. And then came Cali, this yellow dog that I found on an adoption site, who took my breath away. Five years old and sick as can be. Promising to be complicated and expensive. Hey, who needs it?

I couldn’t get that dog out of my mind. Her soft brown eyes drew me in time after time as I cruised that site looking for a puppy in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. And in the end, I learned the sick, complicated, expensive dog that haunted me lived less than five miles away and was absolutely desperate for a new home. Could I take this on? How could I not? Am I nuts? Well, yes.

This was a story that was supposed to have a happy ending. I adopted the dog and gave her a middle name, so if I had to raise my voice at her it would be like correcting my kids. Fast forward to today, and I had to unexpectedly cradle my beautiful girl as she took her last breath. I whispered the words I needed to say as she left me. And then she was still.

A consoling friend told me this afternoon that I had committed the ultimate act of love by being willing to break my own heart to allow her to go. I am not sure about that as I battle the grief.

My dog is now lying in a peaceful grave out back under her favorite tree. She has been laid to rest with a cherished toy and the season’s last flowers, all wrapped in a blanket of warm fleece. There is a cross made of rocks culled from around the yard, and from near a woodchuck hole that she stalked.

I was at odds at dinner time, when there was no meal to be made. I walked around the house, instead, seeking something I couldn’t find. And now, at the time when we would take a nightly walk up to the corner mailbox and back, I am alone.

It will take some time to acclimate to the absence of routine, and the big, warm body sprawled half across my bed. Some will think, God, it’s only a dog. Get over it already. Think about world events. Do some work! And others, like my friend, and legions of others who touched base today, will say, yes, you have lost someone dear, and it’s OK.

One of those people told me it was great that I had cared enough to save Cali. But in my heart, as I sit here, I know with everything that I am, that it was Cali who saved me.

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FALLING into place

PUZZLEI’ve been having a little trouble lately believing that things happen for a reason.

Pretty much everything I need to get me where I want to be, from my house sale on down, has just refused to cooperate, leaving me — more often than not — just spinning my wheels. It has felt so unfair, and really, what reason could there be for keeping me from my happiness? I think about that.

But then, it seems like everyone I know is in upheaval, too. Is there something going around? Some friends have been struggling with their kids or spouses. Others are completely rethinking jobs and careers, or are about to lose them, and hell, even my dog has been diagnosed with a disease.

I try to remind myself in this angsty ebb and flow that time is a teacher. And my job is to open myself enough that the lesson can sink in. Even, I think, if I am not quite sure what it is. I tell myself it can’t stay this rough forever.

I am also feeling the melancholy that comes with the end of summer, a deep seasonal yearning for something I can’t name. Add it all up and it is an emotional one-two punch.

My co-blogger Mindy suggested I try seeing things from another perspective and what she said struck me. Instead of feeling like life is falling apart, why not see it as the deconstruction needed so it can fall into place?

“It’s a sure sign that you’re moving in the right direction,’’ she said. “You have to tear everything down so you have a clean slate on which to build.”

That thought buoys me when I am frustrated at how little control I have of my circumstances. I remind myself that things do happen in their own time, and not my time … for their own reasons, and not mine. And that the pieces will all come together eventually.

I am grateful for how many good things I do have going on, and how many people are in my corner. I know I am lucky to be so loved.

So, if I can just hang on a little longer I know I will get to that personal place I am seeking that is meant to bring me joy. And there, angst like this will be long forgotten.

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