Monday, April 23, 2018

Shatter Your Illusion (Lessons from Becky with the Good Hair...)

So…I’m going to write a blog about, of all things, my hair.

I know. This seems sort of crazy.

Number one, because I really only know how to make wavy, frizzy hair straight. That’s it. That’s all I can do. I can make a rudimentary braid and put it in a ponytail. Nothing in the least little bit special.

And number two, because that seems way out on a limb away from my normal blog posts.

I mean, really, I doubt too terrible many people care. BUT. I have had more than one person inquire about how I manage to get my frizzy hair to calm the heck down, and a couple of people have told me that they think it would make an interesting blog post. And so, I oblige.

Like everything in this world of mine, my hair revolves around my divorce. Pre-divorce, my method of dealing with my hair was basically to wash it and brush it and be sad that it didn’t look like I envisioned in my mind. An excellent question at this juncture would be-why on earth would you assume, having lived with wavy, frizzy hair since the age of 14, that suddenly said hair would simply straighten itself and turn into the style that you like? There’s no really simple answer to that other than-I didn’t know how to deal with my hair. I didn’t know a lot of things pre-divorce. I didn’t know how to deal with talking to people I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to plot out a budget and stick to it, and I didn’t know how to tame this wild mass of hair that God saw fit to put on my head.

Then I lived through my life falling all apart. My life fell to such bits that I basically had to start from the beginning and figure out who I was again. That, in all honesty, is how much to the bone I defined myself as Nick Johnson’s wife. And if I wasn’t Nick Johnson’s wife anymore, then who was I? It seems crazy, but really, so does nearly everything about my life in the past three years.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure that putting myself back together again started with my hair because it was something that I truly struggled with, something that I desperately wanted to control but felt at a loss as to what to do. My whole life might have been shattered at my feet, and everything felt beyond my control-and so I grabbed onto this hair and insisted that it bend to my will.

So, the nitty-gritty of how exactly I do this. My hair is naturally very thick and it has a wave to it. Not exactly a curl, though my hair will easily hold a curl if I want it to. The issue, of course, being that I wanted it to lay straight.

I accomplish this mostly through my flat iron. I have 2 that I use consistently. One flat iron is an Ion Keratin Smoothing Flat Iron. This iron is skinny, but it gets hot (it can go up to 450, I use it at 400). Basically, once my hair is totally dry after I wash it (I wash my hair twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday), I use this flat iron in very small sections all around my head. The smaller the sections, the easier it is to get it to all lay flat. It takes about 15 minutes.

My other flat iron is a Remington. It is much wider and easier to use. I use it always the day after I wash my hair, to get my hair to behave itself, and then in the mornings just after I comb my hair if I think that it needs it-obviously, frizzy hair is more of a problem the more humid it is.

The only other real secrets keeping my hair straight lie in my shampoo and conditioner (I use Brazilian Keratin Therapy shampoo and conditioner) and my blow-dry spray (which is called WOW-this is a miraculous product that I would chose to take to a deserted island). I use a wide toothed comb to keep my hair from breaking. And that’s that.

The whole entire thing-from washing my hair to drying and straightening it-takes one hour tops. And much of that is just that it takes a while to dry my hair because it’s so thick.

Like I said, I’m not exactly a beauty blogger, nor do I especially know what I’m doing. I have learned things mostly by asking people whose hair I like what products they use, and by having a hair stylist that I adore.

Prior to my divorce, I defined myself as a girl who didn’t care about hair or makeup or clothes. But deep down, I really did care about those things-I just didn’t know how to go about figuring any of it out. I think that falling apart in front of truly every person I have ever met made me realize that not one single person thought I had it together. So we shattered that illusion, and it opened me up to realizing that I could, if I wanted to, just become this completely new person.

Silly as it sounds, that began with a hair straightener.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Of Surrender and Certainty...

“Were you happy?”

I hear that, said in Claire Danes’ voice, every day inside my head.

(It’s in her voice because she was Angela Chase, and she said it, choking back a cry, in one of the final episodes of My So-Called Life, when Rayanne and Angela’s friendship has all but ended and they are in a production of Our Town and it’s layered with meaning, and like all things about me, I carry that choke in her voice with me for no real reason other than it struck a chord with me when I was sixteen years old.)

There are so many parts of this new life that I truly love- falling all apart and piecing yourself back together is a fascinating process, and it makes you approach life from a different angle. From a kinder angle-kinder to other people, yes, but kinder to myself. I don’t know what I’m doing-the world can see that-and it frees me a bit of any expectation that people might think I do.


Untangling yourself from someone is hard and messy and frankly, unfair. There are days that you just long for that person that you used to be, that person who didn’t question every little thing, who trusted easily and openly, that person who knew where on earth life was going.

There are many parts of being a single mom that are hard-I’m the only person to make all the decisions, to budget the money, to say no to things that I really, really want to say yes to.

I hate that my mom misses the old me. I hate that I can’t bring that girl back, if only for her sake, once in a while. But I can’t. It’s like something snapped inside of me. I know that it seems ridiculous-it’s a divorce, not war or death or anything-but I genuinely believe that it is a trauma that fissured my life. There is the before and there is the after.

“Were you happy?”

Yes, I was so happy in the before. I honestly thought that I had it all. I didn’t think that life could get any better than it was.

But the truth is, life is so much better in the after. It’s hard to remember sometimes, at the end of a long day, trying to make ends meet, just aiming to keep us all alive and fed for one more day. Sometimes it seems incredible to me, that once I had a human in my life who I did such monotonous things with- washing dishes, doing laundry-and I never once thought it unusual or special.

So, yes, life isn’t all roses in the after. I have to remind myself that where I am going is worth the sacrifice of where I had been. (The Israelites begged Moses to go back to Egypt. They would rather be slaves to what they knew than to keep going toward the Promised Land. Those Israelites keep me going on the days I want to give up. It is just human nature to want what we know. It is the brave thing to keep going, not knowing what lies ahead, stumbling and falling and getting hurt, blindsided even, but to keep going.)

Who knows? Maybe Brian Krakow has been here all along, and I was just too taken with Jordan Catalano to notice.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Manipulation, Faith, Creation (Possibly)...

I had the brilliant idea this week that I should do a Throw Back Thursday on the blog, only instead of it being a picture, I should dig up one of my stories from my creative writing class in college and put it on the blog.

In college, writing was my entire life. Everything was copy. Reading through those stories brings back memories, both cherished and embarrassing, of a girl still on the cusp of life.

It’s a bit overwhelming.

But I did find one thing-which, oddly, is a poem-that isn’t too terribly embarrassing to share. You will quickly see why I am not a poet. But this one, which I wrote as a tribute to what it means to me to call myself a “writer”-I don’t know, I like it. It’s nothing, really, but a girl trying to write a poem who isn’t a poet. But here you go:

Manipulation, Faith, Creation

It begins with a word,
One word, one idea,
More are then added
To give it weight.

I take these words
And mesh them together,
I bundle them up
Into a jumble.

Then I begin to roll them,
I roll them flat,
I strip them of their meaning,
Until I can see them clearly.

(this is manipulation)

I press the words,
My words now,
Onto my mold
Until they stick.

They don’t all fit, you know.
Some will have to be-
On my altar to Plath and Wordsworth.

(this is faith)

And so I begin to cut,
It’s almost blinding,
Physically, I ache
And wonder how my idols do it.

There, there-
The mess is on the floor now.
And the rest remain stuck,
As they should be.

Now they are burnt,
They are singed into my memory
As though it matters

(this is creation)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Out of My Misery...

Again, I am wishing that I were a poet.

I read a poem this weekend that spoke directly to my soul and said all of the things that I’m about to clumsily attempt to say in far too many words.

I can’t quote the poem, only because it goes to places that I don’t talk about on the blog. I have some boundaries when it comes to what I say here (which probably seems humorous if you know me, because I often don’t have any boundaries around what I say, usually too loudly, in person).

What I am comfortable sharing here, what I have stated before so it’s none too shocking, is that there was a great deal of anger and tension directed at me in the final two years of my marriage. Not every day, but looking back, more often than not. Anger and rage became normal. It got all mixed up with what had always been love. And it turned life upside down before I ever realized what was happening.

My heart and my head began to think of hurt as an extension of caring, as crazy as that sounds. Anger masked itself as desire.

Unlearning this is harder than it sounds. I equated anger with passion and hurt with want. I stand at a distance now from that girl and understand how unhealthy that was. How profoundly untrue it was. The fury was born from frustration, the anger from unhappiness, and the hurt from a complete lack of knowing what to do about this place that we had fallen to.

But it’s still all mixed up inside of me.

When I am offered a hand, a shoulder, soft corners-I don’t quite know how to react. I yearn for sharp edges to know where the heck the boundaries are. How far to push before you push back.

It’s complicated.

Why exactly do I live this out on the blog? I listened to a podcast this past weekend in which the guest, a poet, said that when you write something down you can stand back and look at it and see it from different angles. I agree.

When I write something down, something that pains me to write, to admit to, something that honestly makes me want to crawl under the table and hide-it frees me of it. I have written it down, and now all the world knows for as long as they care to remember. I cannot explain it any more than that.

My words are my freedom and my sacrifice, all at the same time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Still Faking This Art of Love...

I feel torn in two.

There is a piece of me that wants more than anything to think that I'm going to fall in love again. And there is a part of me that is screaming that I can never, never fall in love again.

It's just lovely.

This is a hard thing to admit, but I'm trying to be brave. I honestly thought when I got divorced that I would just love Nick forever. That it wouldn't matter that he had moved on, and that he definitely didn't love me anymore, I would just live forever the way that I had prior to meeting Nick-certain that he was the love of my life.

I don't think that anymore. I think that's probably fairly obvious from what I write.

Letting go of the idea that I love Nick was a tangle of its own emotions. That's basically what the blog was about in the past year. Opening myself up to the idea that there could be a human being that I care about possibly even more than Nick-there are days that feels like the most wonderful idea ever, and there are days that I think if I don't shut down all of my emotions right now all of this is going to lead to sure hurt.

Grief is such a strange beast, coming and going and hitting me when I least expect it, and it sort of feels as if I'm standing on a mountain and I keep climbing but I'm never quite sure that I'm not just about to slip and fall and get hurt all over again.

I do wonder at the consequences of allowing myself to fall to such a scary place-will I ever be able to not be scared of being abandoned? I have created such walls within me, I'm not sure that they can ever be knocked down. On the one hand, that seems good-it seems more adult, more sensible. Not to dwell on it, but my marriage had many, many glaring warning signs that I chose to ignore, for reasons that I understand but that are not healthy in the least.

On the other hand, that seems lonely.

It's such a dance-figuring out how much of this is about figuring out things about myself, and how much of it is about allowing someone new in. I don't want to mess it up. I don't want to undo all of the work that I've done to get to this point.

There is a feeling that comes of someone having your back that cannot be replicated even with the genuine joy that comes of standing on your own two feet.

I had forgotten that.

When you are the only one to do all the things, you simply go about doing them. In the beginning, you remember what it felt like for there to be two adults, but for me, in the past two and a half years, I have just gotten used to carrying in all the groceries and doing all the cleaning and all the laundry and helping with the homework and just all of the bits and pieces that go into being a grownup. This is not to say that my girls don't help-they definitely do, and I would be lost without them. But they are kids still, and reliant on me to keep it together.

I found myself telling someone last week that I worry that people look at me like I have some sort of strength, like I manage to keep the girls and myself alive and fed and what have you, and if they only knew how scared and confused and worried I am, they would lose all respect for me. And, of course, as the words were leaving my lips, I realized how vain I sounded. Likely anyone who knows me from reading this blog realized long ago that I don't have any idea what I'm doing, and that I'm fumbling along this path much at my own peril.

For now, for right this minute, I'm going to hold onto the joy that I'm feeling, and try my best not to overthink every second of my life. In the end, I may get hurt, and I may fall all over again, but it's a chance I have to take if I don't want to just stay stuck on the side of the mountain forever.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Remnants (of a Former Life)...

I wish I were a poet.

I am sadly not a poet in the least, tiniest little bit. My words form in paragraphs. I talk too much, I write too long, I ramble to get to my point.

I envy people who can take a few words, a sentence, and sum up what it takes me a mountain of words to write.

(All of that is to say, I wish I could sum this up in a few simple words. But such is not my lot in life.)

This past month-the irony of this very long month of February-I have allowed myself to let go of some of the very last vestiges of who I used to be. On the one hand, it feels lovely to let go. To stop trying to fit inside of a mold that used to feel like a second skin, but that now feels like a pretend world. On the other, change is hard for me. (I'm sure that's fairly obvious.) I like for things to remain the same-it's a comfort to know what to expect.

At the beginning of the month, the girls and I sat down and had a very sincere discussion about what we want to continue to participate in, and what we are ready to say goodbye to. Soccer, dance, piano, track, and Girl Scouts made the cut. Which means that this year we are not going to be participating in 4H or cheering.


Being the cheer coach was the last little remnant of my former life.

When life fell apart, some bits fell away quickly. Others took much longer. I had to almost immediately stop being the Girl Scout leader and the Cloverbud advisor and the room mom. It felt like chopping my arm off-but there was no getting around the fact that these roles took a certain amount of free time that I no longer had.

Being the cheer coach, however, that I held onto.

That summer-that summer that is blessedly missing from most of my memories-that summer of upheaval and sadness and crazy, out of my mind grief-that summer, going to cheer practice and fairly much just watching in something of a stupor while Kayla did most of the work-it gave me something to do. Some reason to get up. Some very vague notion that someone needed me.

The next summer I was on my own. Cheer still gave me a sense of belonging-a sense that even though I could no longer be the mom involved in all the things, I could still hold onto this one piece of my old life.

Eight and nine year old girls do not know that you are just barely holding it together. They don't know how broken you feel, how unperfect and alone-they just know that you are their coach. That you call out the cheers. They hug you goodbye and give you a love that you are completely unable to give to yourself.

I will forever treasure those girls. Even as we move into a new phase of life.

I know that it's healthy to move into this new phase of life. My life with my girls is so different than it used to be, but I'm happy with the changes. "New Mom" (which is what they call this version of me), she is mostly a lot more fun-she says yes more often than no, and she has a better understanding of just how lucky she is to have these two girls who love her in spite of her many flaws.

All of this twisting and turning and changing, some of it feels amazing and wonderful and like the best thing that has ever happened. Some of it is scary and sad and overwhelming. And sometimes it's all of those things, all at the same time.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Friday, February 2, 2018

You're So Vain...

I think that possibly planning is my love language.

I know technically that's not a love language (my real love languages are acts of service and quality time) but planning is definitely my thing. My favorite thing.

I love color coding, label makers, really great pens (Pilot G-2 07 are my favorite), Erin Condren, Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks...I could go on, but you get the picture.

It has also been brought to my attention that I follow a really rigid schedule. I can't really emphasize enough that I do that for a reason-setting tight boundaries around my days helps to calm my natural tendency toward anxiety. Knowing what is ahead is soothing, even if it's just my morning schedule of coffee, devotions, workout, shower, and makeup.

I have always been this way. My mother has told me many times that when I was little, if she just said to me, "Joy, put your shoes on, we're leaving," I had a meltdown. But if she told me, "In ten minutes we are going to leave," I was perfectly fine.

Is it any wonder that I fell to pieces over my world being turned all upside down 2 1/2 years ago?

So, anyway, I like to know what's coming. And for the most part I can control that-my morning, my job, the girls' schedules. But stepping into this world of dating-that I can't control. It has me a bit freaked out.

Here's the thing-I have never, ever done this before. Nick and I went on just a few actual "dates" and then moved in together. Until the divorce, I thought nothing of that. We were in our early twenties, with few real responsibilities, going about creating a life together the way that we assumed everyone did. It simply did not occur to me to even question the pace at which falling in love happened.

So, fast forward 15 years, and Nick leaves, and I spiral down a dark hole, and spend tons of time grieving and healing and I have finally emerged into a place of sheer joy and contentment-and there is a part of me that just wants to stay there, you know? I like me. I'm perfectly capable of taking myself on a great date-I have no problem going out to the movies and to dinner by myself. I enjoy my own company.

But there is a part of me-a part of me that frankly I have pushed away for most of my life-that enjoys attention. It's hard for me to admit-if you know me at all, you know that I'm normally most comfortable hiding in a corner-but I can't lie that I do enjoy it when people compliment me on my looks. It's not something that I'm used to-I was never the girl asked to the dance when I was in high school. Looking back, I don't think that I was all that different looking then, I was just really shy and uncomfortable in my own skin. I think-I hope-that what people are responding to when they say I look nice is the fact that I have at least a slight confidence in myself anymore.

This week I uploaded a bunch of pictures to my Facebook page because I wanted to delete them off of my phone to free up space (Betsy has since shown me that all of my pictures are backed up to the cloud, and therefore this was completely unnecessary), and I somehow uploaded a picture of me in my personal favorite dress, which is also very short. Too short, my mother thinks. Somehow Facebook must have put it on the newsfeed and as of my writing this, it has 43 likes and rather a few comments (all blessedly nice).

Now, on the one hand, I hate for anyone to think that I am so vain that I would post such a picture of myself. But on the other, 43 likes for one picture is sort of a nice compliment? And if you have seen this picture, and do indeed think that my skirt is too short, well, then, you have good company in my mom.

My point with all of this blather is this-this whole dating thing is like posting a picture times a thousand.

After all, just because I like my own company, it doesn't mean at all that anyone else will.

If you know me well, you know that I over think every single possible thing in my life. I analyze and fret and worry to a ridiculous degree if someone likes me. I have a terrible tendency to want everyone to like me, and I know that isn't possible, and even that there are people who do indeed like me but who don't necessarily love everything that I do. And that's all normal, completely normal, and it is not healthy to tie myself in knots over things that I cannot change.

In my Bible study we are talking about taking time to rest, to stop, to contemplate. My mind keeps focusing on the Israelites, wandering around in the desert, being granted the miracle of manna from heaven but only as much as they needed for that one day. Every day they had to trust that that manna would be there. If I had been an Israelite, you can bet that I would have laid awake every night, worried that maybe tomorrow the manna wouldn't be there.

Trusting this process-this process of turning myself inside out and figuring out who to be and how to be and why exactly I'm like that and hoping that eventually somehow someone will come along who thinks this bundle of anxiety and insecurity is right up his alley-it's hard.

It's hard but it's important. Much as I like my own company, there are times when it's lonely. When I remember what it was like to have someone to talk to, to hang out with, to laugh with. And so that is the road that I am electing to take, much as these next bends scare me.

Someday, I tell myself, I'll look back this road and realize that all of these curves were leading me right to wherever it is that I belong.