Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Let the Words Fall Out...

I'm trying something slightly new this year: I'm not making a "resolution" for the new year.

My resolutions have always been more geared toward changing some aspect of my life for the better (and yes, that always involves reading) but this year I decided to take a different tack.

I adopted a word.

I heard about this on the Elise Gets Crafty podcast (I follow EliseJoy on Instagram and enjoy her immensely, despite the fact that she is the craftiest person ever and I am most decidedly not.)

Elise chooses a word every year, and this year her word is reach, as in getting out of her comfort zone.

I loved that idea, but I wasn't jazzed about that word. In typical Joy fashion, I pondered and wrote and bounced the whole idea off of someone who looked at me like I was loony, and I just couldn't figure out what I was wanting to say.

I wanted to say that I want to try new things, that I want to keep proving to myself that I can do things that I completely believe myself incapable of doing, I want to fall on my face and pick myself up and do it all over again.

I want to figure out how to work at this job that I love, and come home to my kids and not just collapse to the couch, but somehow still be that mom that used to occupy all of my time. That's a hard one-the girls are getting older, and while we still have so much fun together, they are completely resistant to the super fun games of clean your room and let's see how many vegetables you can eat.

I want my family to understand that I love them, that I am well aware that they make my life possible. I want to make time to spend with my friends, which has become somehow more difficult as our children have aged, which makes no sense but is still true.

I want to keep clearing out my house, shedding all of these things that we have somehow amassed, and be able to actually feel that my home is a sanctuary of things I love and cherish.

I mostly want to feel such joy in my life, I want to feel like every day is full of fun-there was such a stretch of my life that felt like existing without feeling, because feeling was just much too overwhelming-and having finally shed that weight, having embraced that grief for the healing and grace that it brought, and feeling like there is finally a new bend in this road just ahead of us-it's a bliss that I don't want to take for granted.

So, finally, after all of the overthinking that I do about everything, I came up with a word to encompass all of that.


That is what 2018 is going to be for me. Brave. Every time I think that I'm going to look like a goon, or that I'm scared because I don't know what the heck I am doing, or that I'm overwhelmed by the idea that I am the only adult in my house, I am going to be brave.

I spent the past two years living, growing, and blessedly thriving through something that took me to my absolute nadir. The next bend in the road may be full of roadblocks, but so be it. 2018 is going to be glorious. Or not. But I can promise, it's going to be full of new adventure.

"She was brave and strong and broken, all at once." -Anna Funder

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Seriously Purple Prose...

Love is elusive for me.

Always has been.

I fell in love for the first time at the age of 21. The preceding years of my life had been mostly a panic that no one would ever find me attractive. I had a romantic's heart coupled with a completely nerdy, homebody life-I was as shy as could be, I rarely spoke to anyone in the four years that I was in college (my professors being the one exception), and all I wanted in life was to be swept off my feet by some boy who could get past all of my awkwardness and see that Cinderella underneath.

All of that happened. Which is amazing. But true.

So, when my marriage crumbled at my feet, my natural inclination was to panic again. After all, it had taken 21 years for someone to succumb to my awkward charms the first time. Now I was older and grayer and still ill at ease in most social situations.

I have wavered in the past two years between being completely certain that I will never fall in love again, and being completely certain that I absolutely must fall in love again for any of this to make any sense. After all, I tend to reason with myself, surely this happened because the true love of my life is still out there, making his way to me? Sure, we both got waylaid, me by a marriage and children-so heaven knows what could be holding him up? Family, distance, maybe he's been mauled by tigers in India-literally anything.

And then of course I waver back to the understanding that I have with my brain, that I am never going to fall in love again, and that I am going to just shut down that part of my being, and therefore I need never again live through the agony of being abandoned by someone that I trust with my life.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

I have grown fond of saying, "I'm open to falling in love again, but I'm not looking for it."

That's, of course, easier said than done. What on earth does that mean? I think that I want it to mean that I totally want to fall in love but I don't want to do anything that might suggest I lay my feelings on the table to be hurt. It's not possible. I can't only have all of the upside of being in love without any of the possible negative consequences.

My head and my heart are battling it out to see who wins this fight.

What is my point with this particular post? Well, someone just recently asked me how it's possible to figure out when is the correct time to start dating again? (I know, it scares me too, that there may be people in the world who think I have actual insight into these things, as if I have any idea what I'm doing.) My answer for that is for me, figuring out if I want to go out with someone, if it's worth my time or, more importantly, if it's worth whatever sliver of my heart might go with it, it's a very organic process. I have figured out that I really have to get to know a person, and for me, that is done in real life and not over the internet. (Mind you, I know people who have met their spouses on the internet and they are perfectly suited. So I'm not saying it can't work, it just doesn't for me right now.)

I'm just a bit too damaged to trust anyone very easily. It complicates things a bit.

Figuring out the pieces of me that remain from this divorce has been such a time consuming process. So even though I do worry endlessly about falling in love again, and how it would work, and what it would look like on a practical level, ultimately none of that matters.

What matters in the end is that I'm content with who I am, in love or not.

Two years ago, at our Christmas Eve service, all I could think was that there was a huge hole where Nick belonged, that the girls and I would feel the loss of his presence forever. How would I ever just move beyond Nick? And this year I had a realization that our family has changed and morphed to the point that it no longer feels like someone is missing.

It's a sign that this dented, damaged heart of mine is healing.

"Every word, every lover's sign we make has been made before."
-The Lover Speaks

Monday, December 18, 2017

My {Favorite} Year, My {Least Favorite} Year, My Year...

2017 is not going to end up being my favorite year ever.

That said, it is not my least favorite year ever either. (No, 2015 takes that prize.)

As always, I read a lot, listened to more music and podcasts than I properly know what to do with, watched my fair share of movies, and very little television as compared to years past. 2017 is the year that I learned to make peace with my limitations, the year that I began to recognize that making time to marinate in things that I enjoy is just as important as my never ending list of tasks to be accomplished, and to accept with two hands the grace that I have been granted through not one ounce of my own doing.

First, two articles to set the mood:

The Ultimate Best Books of 2017 List

Literary Hub has graciously done all the math in rounding up all the best books from the book lists for 2017. Since math is most definitely not my thing, I am appreciative. And proud to have read at least a few of the top books of 2017.

7 Stages of End-of-the-Year Reader Grief

This article from Book Riot is me. The end of the year is a whiplash of emotion from I can't believe I didn't get to this book, and that book, and of course this book, to my inevitable reassurance of myself that next year I will read all the books. I am Linus, quite convinced that next year I will meet the Great Pumpkin.

That said, here's a list of things I loved from the year 2017:

Best Books:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Hands down, my favorite book of the year.

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. About a topic I love, of course, but told in such a way that I am still mulling it over.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Not technically a novel from this year, but I read it in February and loved it so, so much.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. So many feelings about this book. But I would recommend it.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. One of those books that 8 million people recommended to me, and I read it and was not blown away until the very last page, and then I set it aside and my life changed.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. So much better than Hawkins other book. So I'm sort of grading on a curve.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Finished this over the weekend. So good. Still rattling around in my brain.

Best Podcasts:

The Popcast with Knox and Jamie On Wednesdays, I popcast.

What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel Of course.

The Rewatchables I love, love, love the You've Got Mail episode.

Literary Disco Pardon me while I crush so hard on Rider Strong.

On Being Every week, this is a gem.

The Daily I start my morning with this and Up First from NPR every week day.

The Lazy Genius So good. And she gave me the best turkey recipe, thus saving Thanksgiving.

Best Movies:

Baby Driver

Wonder Woman

As far as new movies that I've seen this year, that's it. I really want to see Dunkirk, Ladybird, and Call Me By Your Name. I'm not a real fan of sci fi or comic book movies. It has made my movie list shorter every year.

2018 will be an even better year, Charlie Brown. Quite possibly the best year ever. Or at least, probably not the worst. We will hope.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Walking on Broken Glass...

Today is a day.

Today is the day that I signed my dissolution papers. 2 years ago, so terribly sad and hurt and all the things that I have mostly blessedly put behind me.

2 years seems important.

14 years ago Nick came home from Iraq. On his birthday. Which is today.

The irony of it does not escape me-14 years ago my life felt like it was finally beginning, after such a year of ache and worry and longing for my husband. 12 years later to the day I ended my marriage.

My life, this blog, my decisions about everything from my kids to my hair-everything revolves around that decision that I made 2 years ago.

It was me who filed the paperwork, me who hired a lawyer, me who wrote out the dissolution-it was effectively me who took all the steps, who put the final nail in the coffin of what had been Nicholas and Joy.

It was also me who did not want to end my marriage.

I did everything Nick ever asked me to do, up to and including divorcing him.

I found myself saying to someone the other day that the blog is about the fact that I don't believe in divorce, and yet I am divorced.

The fact is, 14 years ago, I couldn't have imagined I would ever allow myself to be divorced. I thought that we had lived through the hardest thing, the gut wrenching pain that accompanied a spouse being deployed to a war zone.

In case you are wondering, the divorce was much harder. On me, anyway.

Life is changing, as always, life is moving along and taking me to places that I would never have reached if I had stayed married to Nick. Life is shifting, turning corners at what sometimes seems a breakneck speed.

It's bliss.

Bliss that I wouldn't have if I had stayed married.

It makes my head spin.

I know in reality, it doesn't even matter. I am divorced, and if I can be divorced and be even happier than I was when I was married, then that should just settle it, and let's move along, shall we?

I can't explain in words how sad that sentence makes me, while at the same time offers my heart such peace.

Inside that moment 2 years ago, that girl trying so hard to hold it together as life shattered all around her, all she wanted was to believe that inside of sadness there could be hope. That is what I'm offering her with this post today.

Everything that I write is for her. Everything is to try so hard to make her understand that life is beyond anything she ever dreamed. Letting go of the thing that she held most precious in the world led to life beyond her imagination.

It's a Hallmark movie metaphor, I know. But it's true. So cue Paul McCartney singing "Wonderful Christmastime." On the face of this girl healing through grief and time and more grace than she could ever have been worthy of.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

New endings, old beginnings...

"To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love."
- Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn

We are nearly to the end.

I don't really mean that, of course. The end will never actually come, the end will become a new beginning before I've even realized that that an ending came to pass.

But that's a bit out there.

What I mean is that we are nearly to the end of the year of letting go.

One of the best parts of being born on Christmas day is that you get to become a new age just as the old year fades away, and the new year becomes a time to focus on the future.

For the past two years I have somehow found that giving a name to the year ahead of me gives it some purpose. Calling 2016 "the year of transition" made me feel like I was actually accomplishing something besides just wallowing in grief. If you have read my posts from that year, you know that I really wasn't doing much more than that-but calling it a transition allowed me to feel free of expectations that I get it together and move past the end of my marriage.

My divorce is the prism through which everything gets filtered.

So, what does it mean to be to the end of letting go?

I physically have let go of so much this past year. The more things that I purge, the more layers peel away, and my soul feels lighter and lighter. I am breaking a cycle inside of myself of hoarding not only so much stuff, but so many emotions I could drown in them. Writing down all of this grief has been such an outlet-I would likely still be unable to get up out of bed without it.

And so, as that particular chapter is coming to at least something of a close, I am looking forward to my new year, my next adventure in this tiny little life that I lead.

I'm thinking that I'm going to call it the year of peace. I am so blessedly at peace right now it barely seems real. There was a time when I was most certain that I was never going to feel peace ever again. When I was sure that all of my best memories lay behind me, memories that lay inside of such young adoration and babies and a struggle to make life out of very little money but such love.

I had a small moment of clarity, in the time between when Nick told me that he was leaving and when he actually left, when I was immobile and scared beyond anything that I had ever felt before and completely sure that I was trapped inside of a nightmare-and in that one tiny moment of clarity, I felt like everything would be okay, and that this horrific moment in my life was going to lead me to a place that I had only ever dreamed of, a place where I was at peace.

I've said that the final two years of my marriage were unhealthy. But on the surface, everything was fine. There were days on end where everything was just fine, where I was certain that I was inventing the distance that I felt creeping into my marriage. It was like dancing on a knife's edge, everything perfect until the slightest turn undid it all. I would tell myself that I was such an ungrateful wife, imagining that things were off kilter when they were clearly fine.

Obviously, the lesson to be learned here is to trust your gut.

And yes, I have now have trust issues that go deep.

But my point is, I have a peace to my soul now that I simply have not had for a very long time. An understanding that I am in charge of my life from here on out, a firm grasp on the idea that being assertive does not mean that I am pushing my own demands onto other people, but rather that I am standing up for my own thoughts and feelings, giving weight to my own opinions. I still would rather listen, I still would rather hear why you think a certain thought and understand where you are coming from, than offer up my own opinion (my family will find that to be an untrue sentence, but everyone else will understand it)- the point is, I can offer them now, I know to my bones who I am and what I think.

So, for today anyway, I am at peace. This restless soul has found purchase that has always eluded her. And I know that somehow I found a way to communicate that to that lost, lonely girl who only wanted her life back.

I told her that the life ahead would be bliss. And so it has.

Love is: I gave you everything I had to give.
-The Lover Speaks

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

So Many Nothings...

I have a thing for Meg Ryan.

Tom Hanks and Nora Ephron, too. But Meg, I have decided, is the magic glue that holds it all together. Because I adore Nora's writing (Heartburn is a must read for a person going through a divorce with infidelity involved), and I do love old school Tom Hanks, back when he didn't only make important movies and strange Saturday Night Live cartoons.

But Meg. Meg is the charm, the joy, the delight-both Sally Albright and Kathleen Kelly are kindred spirits to this girl that I am.

I have written a blog post about Sally before, so I won't go over that whole thing again but I will reiterate that as a girl going through her first break up in her mid-thirties, nothing soothed my soul like watching Sally fumble and falter her way through a dating world-it gives me hope. Of course, I am missing a Harry. What I wouldn't give for a Harry.

This weekend I watched both The Shop Around The Corner and You've Got Mail, as I am wont to do at Christmas time. I adore both movies, and can never quite land on which is my favorite between them. This year You've Got Mail stole my heart all over again.

Normally, I love so much that the script is full of love for children's literature (surely, someday, I will find an outlet for my love for children's books that is on some par with Kathleen Kelly), I love that the movie reminds me of why I love New York City so much (but only to visit because we all know that I can't even live in a city the size of Zanesville, much less New York), and it's just the kind of romantic comedy that they don't make anymore. This movie, that I saw with Michelle and in a theater, dreaming of the life that I was sure to have someday-it was, to my mind, a glimpse into my future.

Anyway, as I watched Meg and Tom fall in love over loud arguments and all the books this past weekend, my heart ached with a new realization.

"People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. The truth is... I'm heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right."

Something you don't want to happen at all has happened.

You have no idea how many times that has resounded through my head in the past two years.

And I knew that it was from You've Got Mail. I knew the context. It's a line that has become a part of my soul.

And yet. This time it was different. This time, I watched as Kathleen Kelly accepted that change with a grace that I can only dream of.

I want so badly to be worthy of this change. I want to move forward, out of this year of letting go, and feel like I'm in this place of love and acceptance and peace. Mostly, I feel that. Mostly, I'm so contented and happy to be this Joy that I have become, a Joy of adult decisions both welcome and not. I know, I have dwelled on that long enough.

I want to be my beloved Meg at the end of that movie. She has blossomed, she has come to view the change to her life as magical-she has become who she was meant to be. She has done the brave thing and lived to tell about it. She has become the heroine of her own story-a story that she is living and not just reading about.

I don't know that I am ever going to be that brave. But we will hope. And pray. And read all of the books.

"The odd thing about this form of communication is you're more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many... somethings."

Any of you, who read these words that I write, who walk along at my snail's pace-you have no idea how much you mean to me. All of this nothing that I write-all of this sadness and happiness and everything in between-I can never quite express how much it means that anyone reads my words and is at all encouraged in their own journey. If I could, I would send all of you bouquets of sharpened pencils. Thank you.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Defying Gravity...

I'm happy.

It's not a word that I love. Happy always sounds insincere to my ears. Oh, you're happy? Well, guess what? You are going to be sad again soon. And mad. And frustrated. That is how emotions work, they flow through our veins and we treat them like they are the mirror to our souls.

But the thing is, I'm happy. Glad. Felicitous. (That's my favorite.)

This is not, of course, to suggest that I wasn't happy for the majority of my marriage. I certainly was, and people who know me well have pointed this out to me many times-"Joy, you didn't just love Nick, you adored him." When one of my friends said that to me over the summer, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I knew that, but I didn't quite know that other people could see it inside of me.

The final two years of my marriage, however, were not really what you would call happy. The final two years of my marriage were enveloped in a great deal of tension. I can't (and don't) presume to write Nick's feelings down. But, for me, the final two years twisted all of the years that preceded it, years that were full of love and gratitude and yes, happiness. I try (as is mightily apparent, I'm sure) never to discount all of those years that we had a healthy relationship.

But the fact is, the final two years were not healthy. They were full of an anger that I couldn't comprehend, a discontent that I couldn't make sense of-I didn't understand what had changed, what had happened to make living with me suddenly such a burden.

None of that is important now, except as context to understand this:

I'm happy because living through this divorce has been the healthiest thing that has ever happened to me. It pains me to write that-I believe to the depths of my soul that marriage is a commitment to a lifetime of understanding of another person. I think that a lot of my continued feeling of guilt over the idea that I am divorced comes from this belief that somehow I failed in this core mission of marriage.

But by the end of those two years, I was broken. Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true. I was so unhappy, so tired and so frustrated by my own attempts to make things better. I didn't want to give up on my marriage.

The weight that was lifted when Nick finally left, when the decision was made, etched into my skin and my head and last of all into my heart-it has been freeing. Liberating.

I'm writing this down mostly just for myself, for that girl who was so torn to pieces over the life that she was living. I have grieved my marriage hard. I have missed the person Nick used to be, and I have lived through the shifting of my entire life through moments so dark and damaged it scared me to my core. At times living through such pain has seemed unbearable.


It was for the best. It was necessary. There is a lightness to my soul, an understanding of who I am, and a genuine feeling of gratitude for this most painful, shameful event to ever occur in my little life.

Oh, I know. So many blog posts to get to such obvious answers. But my (belabored) point is I am who I was meant to be. Much as I loved that girl who was so delighted to be married to Nick-who adored him so much that it showed in her face. How lucky was I to have had a love like that?

As lucky as I am to be this girl I am now. Blessed. Grateful. Happy.