Desperately Seeking Beauty in Everything

“Even posi people get sad”, a friend once said when I expressed that sadness feels like failure when your default mode is optimistic.

I don’t often use the internet to complain or express when things get hard, despite my strive to always be authentic. I am aware that, by deliberate omission, I am a part of the “everyone seems like they are doing better than they really are” illusion. I don’t find comfort in public commiseration, and most of the time, would rather shift my focus to something good than to rehash a problem every time I get a Facebook notification.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have them. And lately I feel a sticky lump of guilt lodge itself in my throat every time someone mentions how happy I am all the time. Listening to a recent podcast interview (we recorded over two months ago), I hear myself sound like a self-help book I need to read.

Last week, after months of deliberation and despite that it’s existed for over two years, I made my instagram account public. I had listened to enough podcasts and read enough articles to know that for creative work, networking and gaining business, it’s smart to have one. I never used instagram for it’s intended purpose (to share!) because I don’t like the “life is perfect inside this tiny flat square” false reality. I don’t want to be a part of that, and I don’t want to be affected by that.

instagram:  @SavetheKales

instagram: @SavetheKales

And yet, I spent hours deleting, editing, and curating my account. I got rid of 500 hundred pictures (shifted them to a new private account), some of which are my proudest moments of the last two years, because I don’t want to “brag”. I don’t want to be perceived as having things figured out more than I do. Is that a pathetic downplay of my accomplishments and most wonderful moments? If everyone else is using the internet to make themselves and their work sound AMAZING all the time, shouldn’t I? Is the rejection of that a noble attempt to bring some normalcy and honesty to the LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME culture that surrounds us all. the. time.? (Does it even matter?)

The truth is, anxiety and depression have been part of my everyday life once again, especially since the concussion. Emotional and mental health aside, my injury means I physically can’t do everything every time I want to do it. I need to rest, I need quiet, I can’t be on the phone too long without a migraine so intense that it makes me sick, sometimes I can’t stay awake past 9:30pm. People get frustrated and angry and call my involvement and enthusiasm into question. Then I feel worse.

The injury and lack of work (and money) from that has been stressful. There is the jumble of things it’s not my place to talk about publicly. And everyone is dying.

My immediate family has had five deaths in the last several months. When I called people to reschedule meetings, request extensions or explain I’d be out of town this week, I realized the phrase “I have to cancel, there has been a death in my family” has become commonplace in my correspondence. (More on this soon.)

A hard year. All around, a very hard year.

I think our capacity for loving is infinite, but our hearts and minds have a limit for pain and I have had enough for now.

In December, I wrote pages and pages of plans, projects and new ideas. “This will be my YEAR!” I triumphantly told myself, as I crafted a timeline of creative dreams and professional goals. This would be the year I got out of my own way and finally fucking made things happen. I thought so many more of them would be checked off by now. I’m disappointed in myself and frustrated by circumstances. Every time I get my footing there is another tragedy that  knocks me out emotionally and/or physically and, while I don’t like to sink into feelings of “why me?” and victimhood, my god it’s hard not to think that way.

 

wordoftheyear2014

And all this time to myself has been a balance of anxiety – knowing I can’t do things as well as I want to and living with the shame and embarrassment of that – and distracting myself so I don’t have to think so much. For this I have books and walks in the park. Trying to help my friends through their stuff.  Venturing in public for a few hours to be present and experience actual life. Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

While organizing my book collection I rediscovered a copy of The Writer’s Market from 2008, gifted to me by someone who believed in me more than I believed in myself. Now it’s years old, but the symbolism of that is too powerful and I can’t bring myself to add it to the “donate” pile. Maybe this is part of healing, getting past the blinding hurt so you can get to a place of sincere and simple thankfulness.

A lesson learned too late is still a lesson learned.

And I thought about the expectations we set up for ourselves, what we should have done by now, and the pressure we create where there was none.

Writer Cheryl Strayed said her whole life she had a book inside of her that she never got quite right. She was 32 when her mother died and with her grief grew “a second beating heart”, a book, that she could finally purge out of herself. It was published when she was 35.

I have to believe through intense life experiences (not always tragic, but often enough they are) can come our own second heartbeats. They force us to face ourselves and maybe maybe maybe, when we start to breathe again, we can finally create what has been there all along.

View of the Market St. Bridge in Wilkes-Barre

A few nights ago, my mother and I were having coffee in her backyard, and I admitted its very hard to see the point in anything right now. She said, “I think there is a point, and I guess we’re just supposed to keep going until we figure it out.”

Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

 

SERENDIPITY (THE PINK DRAGON): One Year Changes Everything

Confession: I didn’t really know what “serendipity” meant until I saw that John Cusack movie. To this day, when I hear the word I remember a video I loved when I was a kid. My mom and I would walk to the local tape rental store – remember those? – and I’d usually pick out a Faerie Tale Theatre movie or Serendipity the Pink Dragon.

Yesterday I had a day that can I can only describe as serendipitous. “Making fortunate discoveries by accident.” I’m having a hard time finding a way to write about this without sounding like I’m bragging, and I hope if you continue to read you’ll see this post for it’s intention – which is to highlight the incredible things that can happen in a short period of time, the way life can absolutely transform when you work hard to fix the parts that you’re able to fix.

And I hope you’ll stick through this til the end when I explain why all of this happening on the same day is such a beautiful coincidence.

My morning began by meeting Jon and the excellent crew of GreenLeaf Productions in Easton, where I was interviewed and taped for Steelstacks Live (airing locally/going online in February)! Everyone was so friendly and it made me miss all the fancy video production equipment when I was getting my Communications degree.

This venue will open in May 2011. It's going to be amazing!

I was invited to stay to watch a band performance that was taped after me. The music was so good, like Will Oldham and the Great Lake Swimmers and Neil Young all rolled into one. It sounded the way September feels at 7pm.  The studio is in an old church that was breathtaking, and the morning overcast sun came through the stained glass windows making an incredible backdrop.

Have you ever been in a place that is just buzzing with positive, creative energy and you can actually feel it course through your veins?

I went into my favorite Easton Cafe to do some writing, wondering if I’d run into my friend Laini who’s office is right across the street. After 2 hours, as I was about to pack up and leave, she came walking past the window with her gorgeous dog Boomer. I told her what I’d done that morning, why I was in town, and then she got excited and made me an incredible offer. “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before! I need someone to write a feature article for the next Bethlehem book about ArtsQuest and Steelstacks. Would you want to do it?”

Laini, the sweetest pea in the pod! The new Easton book was just released, be sure to pick up a copy!

As if she needed to ask! Let me explain why this is so big: Laini is the woman behind the Little Pocket Guides, books that come out annually that are directories of all local businesses and services. It’s an up to date list of independent shops, galleries and restaurants, and Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown all have their own books. They are printed by the tens of thousands and sold in locations all over the LV, as well as getting directly mailed to residents. So I get to write this feature for a book/project that values this Valley and the spirit of community (and get paid, too!). I was (am) humbled and excited and immediately called my mother.

While my head was still in the cumulous clouds of the beauty  of the day, in the evening I checked my email only to receive another incredible, truly sensational opportunity.

The editor in chief of Lehigh Valley Style magazine (a gorgeous glossy page monthly magazine, and best selling local publication) wrote to ask me if I’d be interested in being featured in an upcoming issue. I will be interviewed, a photographer will come to my home to shoot photos of me cooking and of my food, and I will get three recipes printed in the issue.

(pause for taking all of this in)

(still trying to wrap my head around this day)

When I called Ryan to tell him about all of this, he asked “Geez, what did you DO today?” and that’s when it hit me. That day. January 6th. The realization gave me goosebumps. Here’s why:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Exactly one year ago on January 6th, 2010 I began a journey of treatment for anxiety and depression that had become so crippling it nearly cost me my job as I had become a “vegetable” (no pun intended) of a person. I took a medical leave from work for quite a while and went into an intensive program that changed my life, and began really putting in the hard work to help myself get better.

(Why does it feel so strange to talk about and admit mental illness? If someone has a disease like MS or cancer or diabetes, we  can respond with concern, care and help. Why is mental illness treated like something we need to “just get over”, why is it so common to look at someone with this illness and roll your eyes and think “What do you have to be sad about?” without knowing any contributing factors or personal triggers, by assuming that just because someone has elements of their life they are happy with, they “shouldn’t” feel the way they feel, as if it’s all controlled?)

I’ve mentioned it before, but when I began Save the Kales! (a year old next month!) it stemmed from having been at a point in which everything I loved and had interest in suddenly had negative connotations and lead to severe panic attacks. I had to hide away all my design books, abandon my home and stay elsewhere leaving behind all of my things because even driving down the street I lived on made me ill, completely stop listening to music, among other things. Everything I loved became poison.

Except cooking and writing. Those were still inherently mine.

In the past year I have put in a tremendous amount of work to get myself healthy, change the things I didn’t like, fall in love with my community, and begin projects like this that gave me a new reason to get up in the morning. Days like yesterday have proved how much the hard work has paid off, how many improvements I’ve made and that when you begin to value yourself and your life others can do the same.

I’m so excited to continue to improve myself and work toward making a living doing what I love. Thank you so much for being a part of the journey of healing the past, maintaining wellness now, and looking forward on what is surely proving to be an unbelievably wonderful future.

A year can change so much, and I believe you can begin the process of making your life everything you want, too.