Thursday, October 19, 2017

Some Fairytale Bliss...

Once upon a time, my life was pretty much what I considered to be a fairy tale.

Fifteen years ago today, I wrote a story about a girl and a boy and a happily ever after.

I spend a lot of time remembering that girl in my head. That boy, too, if I'm being honest. I loved them so. And 15 years ago today, they made these vows that they technically broke 13 years later.

The thing is-and for reasons I can't quite name this seems important to write down-I don't think that we really broke those vows. I still believe in everything that I said that day, everything that day stood for, everything that I wrote inside of a story that can only be written by someone who is wide-eyed in love for the very first time and promising that love will never falter.

The story that we wove together, a story of young love and Betsys and Felicitys, led to a story of broken trust and hurt and more pain than was surely necessary.

But on it goes. The story that is enveloping me now is one of a girl who knows loss. When my marriage fell apart, nothing scared me more than the idea that I would never know a love like that love I had with Nick.

What I didn't understand then was that the fairy tale didn't have anything to do with Nick. It had to do with me. I love who I have become from the wreckage of my divorce. I love stupid, simple things, like that I can make appointments on the phone without having a panic attack, I can budget for the car that I desperately need, and I can say no when I need to say no to something. They are tiny things, but they have taken me my whole life to learn-this person that I'm presenting to the world can be whomever I want her to be.

And she grew in confidence and faith and love. That's my story. Whether we reach the happy ending or not, I will believe.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mirror Images...

I live in firm belief that I resemble my mother. My mother wholeheartedly disagrees with me.

That, in a nutshell, is our relationship.

My mom is just practically everything to me-she is a mirror of my own heart, she is tangled up with who I am and how I see the world.

These past two years have been hard for us.

My mom wants nothing more than for me to be happy. Watching me hit rock bottom and slowly rise up was easily one of the hardest things that she has ever had to do. She wanted nothing more than to take all of my pain and my shame over the end of my marriage away from me. She did not always approve of how I chose to handle the shattered bits of my relationship with Nick. She misses the old me a lot, by which I think she means the person that used to insist that she knew best and the person who never really faltered in her faith in the happy ending.

What I wish I had the words to say-in a much better way than I'm about to attempt-is that I love my mom not only because she is my mom and she would fight tigers and move mountains and give me her whole world if I asked her to, but also I love her because she gave me the space and the time to fall apart. She didn't want to. She wanted to fix everything, because that is what moms do. I know, I am forever trying to make the path easier for Betsy and Felicity and they are forever forging ahead in spite of my efforts.

It took a while for us to figure out that there just wasn't anything that my mom could do to help me grieve faster. It was frustrating for both of us, feeling like we were talking around each other instead of to each other.

This is hard to write-the experience of being left by someone that you love, someone that you trust with your life, it changes forever your experience of trust even with people that you know love you and care about you and would never, ever leave you alone. I know in my head that Nick's leaving really did not have anything to do with me-it had to do with him and his journey and his truth. But it profoundly changed the course of my life. It's a difficult truth to embrace.

But like all pain, however inflicted, it lessens over time. It's sometimes hard for me to remember that I felt so unmoored. I certainly have taken my time in living with this grief, and there were days that I was most convinced that it was never going to end, but I have reached a point in the past few months where I not only feel contented but I feel delightfully happy. I have somehow grown to love this new person that I have become, and looking back I see, not exactly a method to all of that pain, but...a reason for it? My point is, basically, I never want to live through such hurt again. But the end result of that pain is such a change for the better in what I bring to the world, I can't be anything but grateful that it happened.

My mom and I have slowly been learning how to maneuver around all of this-all of my feelings and all of hers and all of our genuine love for each other. I am blessed to have a mom who hurts so deeply because I am hurting, who never for one moment blamed me for the sadness that swallowed me whole.

I will forever hope to be my mom when I grow up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My Dating Profile (Alternative Title: If You Like Pina Colada)...

Things that are important to know.

I am a mom. Lots of my life is spent at soccer games, cheering with third and fourth graders, making mediocre dinners (I'm working on this, but we often are in a rush), reminding girls to practice various instruments and to do their homework.

I love my job. I can talk about water billing all day long, if you like. I love everyone I work with. I perhaps do not love typing minutes, but I manage. Shut off day hurts my heart.

I love silly things that do not matter in the least. I love the royal family, I love my People magazine, I honestly have a lot of feelings about Katie Holmes and Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Garner. I don't watch much television, mostly just sports and an occasional PBS documentary, which sounds so pretentious but I swear it's not-I just have no time. I plan to binge watch really great shows on the weekends that I don't have the girls, but I usually run out of time. Eventually I will have time for these things.

I love to clean. I love to organize a closet. I love to tackle a really huge project that seems overwhelming. It's like therapy for me. Learning to love this has changed my life.

I love my morning workout routine. I love yoga and running and all the squats. I'm slow. I'm not ripped. I don't run marathons. I still feel silly running at all, which is perhaps why I run so early in the morning, so that it is still dark outside and no one can see me making an idiot of myself.

I love coffee in the morning and wine at night. Often I love a can of pop in between. I can't say that I love water, but I drink it most of the time.

I love podcasts and Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy and Anne Bogel and I want to read all of the books ever.

My family is my world. My friends are the best.

I recently learned from Betsy how to make a playlist of my favorite songs on Youtube. This has shifted my life in so many good ways.

In my head, I think that I would be a really great dancer if I had a willing partner. In reality, I have no proof that this is true.

I sing at inappropriate times and dance in the grocery store. This embarrasses my children. I rather enjoy embarrassing my children.

I'm not afraid to talk about politics, but I don't fit neatly into any ideology.

I'm mostly a really positive, upbeat person. I'm content with my life, with my decisions and my goals and my dreams. But I've been to dark places. I have scars that go deep.

My favorite thing in the world is to be wrapped in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate, reading a book. Or watching old movies or 80s TV shows with my girls. Or eating potatoes of any kind. That's pretty much what my idea of heaven is.

I have no poker face. I don't lie. And if I try to lie, you'll figure it out pretty quickly. I can, however, keep a secret.

None of this really matters right now. And that's cool. More than cool, really. But someday maybe it will. So I wrote it down for you.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Just an Awkward, Plath-loving Girl...

I think I may have mentioned that I'm learning a great deal about myself in this 38th year of my life.

Mostly it's cool stuff, like that I enjoy running and I have learned finally how to fix my hair and probably most importantly I have learned to stand up for myself and be firm in my decisions, regardless of how desperately I want to please everyone.

And of course, some of it is hard-learning how to really budget, and how to look at what I have and be able to purge away the things that I am not using, to let go of expectations without losing all of my determination in the process.

Mainly, though, I have learned to come out of my shell, and talk to people, and go to football games all by myself, and not feel like everyone is staring at me all the time wondering why I am such a freak. But I am still an introvert at heart, and I relish the time alone that being single allows. I want to be invited to the party, but I don't want to go. Ordinarily. Sometimes I surprise myself.

Why Are We So Unwilling to Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?, Literary Hub, by Emily Van Duyne

I fell hard in love with Sylvia Plath when I was in college. Her book, The Bell Jar, spoke to my often tangled in depression heart. Sylvia just got me, she spoke right to my soul with her images of scars and death and guilt. I very vividly remember telling my creative writing teacher my senior year of college that I loved Plath and she said, yes, that people my age usually did, and recommended that eventually I try Anne Sexton. Which I did last year, and I loved her immensely.

But reading this article about Plath reminds me not only of why she was my favorite poet when I was a young girl grappling with a great deal of depression, but also of why her poems still resound in my soul. I don't romanticize her death the way I used to-I see too much the children growing up without her to think it the only logical choice-but I still feel that stir, that anger that I read in her poems, that discontent.

Stranger Than Fiction: What Happened After the Bookstore, New York Times, by Remy Tumin

Oh, I love this article. This is exactly what I want, exactly how falling in love again-as very hard as it is to imagine-this is how it should be. It should be awkward and strange and involving all of the books.

I would also like to recommend Top Shelf Text. The blog is very well done, but my favorite thing about Madeleine is that she is exactly who I was at the age of 24. I love following her stories on Instagram because I have never met anyone so much like who I used to be.

I am mostly really loving who I am at 38. I am trying to mentally prepare myself for the notion that this next year will be my final year in my 30s. I am trying to appreciate this shifting that is being done, trying to learn and grow and continue to be absolutely fascinated by "practically nothing."

"Out of the ash/I rise..."

Friday, September 1, 2017

Smile and Nod...

It's Friday. It's billing day, so I am actually a bit spent but happy to say that the water bills are in the mail with no major issues.

I feel that I need to say something about the pictures that I use on the blog. Because I do realize that I don't smile in pictures very much. There are a lot of reasons for that-really boring reasons that include how big I think my nose looks from certain angles and how self conscious I am of the fact that I don't have my back teeth (I know that usually you can't even tell that, but I can). Anyway, I'm not really making a statement either way about smiling or not smiling, I'm usually just trying to keep my nose from taking over the picture.

I genuinely hope that most people who visit my blog are there more for the words than the picture.

Okay, so, that said, I have read some wicked cool stuff on the internet in the past week that I thought I would share with you.

At the Heart of Every Restaurant, The Washington Post by Tom Sietsema
I must admit, I have never much thought about the importance of the chef having served as a dishwasher at some time. "When you learn to clean dishes,” says the French chef, “you learn to dirty fewer pots and pans.” From my experience, this is completely true.

Laser Pointers and Hand Signals: A Deaf Chef in the Kitchen, The Salt on NPR by Kristen Hartke
I guess I have a restaurant theme today. Again, I have never given any thought to how a deaf person would manage as a chef.
"It's important that we do this as a society," he says, about providing work for people with disabilities. "In my 45 years in the business, I've only had two deaf chefs, but that's two more than most other restaurants have ever had. It's a bit challenging, but it's also worth the challenge. David has become so integrated in our kitchen that we honestly forget that he's deaf; we've all adapted to each other to function as a team."
We need to ingrain this into our souls.

The Greatest Goths in Literary History, Literary Hub by Emily Temple
My favorite read this week. The idea of Mary Shelley carrying around her husband's heart for her entire life just sounds like the most romantic idea to me. (I know, I'm weird. I'm not quite goth but I sort of wish I were.)

Life this weekend looks fairly lovely-I'm alone for two days, which of course means cleaning and reading and football. And then I have my girls back. So the best of all possible worlds. Even if the picture doesn't quite tell you that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Something Just Like This...

The other day I found myself saying to someone that my ideal man would be someone that I met because they read my blog. In all sincerity, I said something like, "That is who I am. I'm completely myself on my blog."

The person that I was saying this to looked at me quite incredulously, and said something along the lines of, "Joy, the main thing that you write about on the blog is how hard your divorce has been for you to deal with."

So I've mulled over that for a few days, and I admit, that is quite true. And I do understand that any future guy in my life likely wouldn't read about my sadness over the end of my marriage and think, wow, she sounds like a great date. Who wouldn't be interested in a girl still tangled up in grief over the loss of her husband?

Perhaps I put too much hope into the blog, then. I likely do lean much too much on my writing because it is so much easier for me to write my thoughts and feelings down than to begin to put them into words. When you encounter me speaking, you will find me loud and babbling and stumbling. And I usually inevitably say something that I realize later sounded stupid or insensitive, but only at the point that it is much too late to bring the subject up again in order to apologize.

My life currently is mostly full of joy and peace and calm, and it is a blissful way to feel. There are moments of panic and sadness in every day, of course. That is how grief works. But time heals in a way that absolutely nothing else does.

My favorite things right now are an absolute obsession with Scissor Sisters, particularly their song Only the Horses, which I can just listen to on a loop for hours; The Popcast with Knox and Jamie, What Should I Read Next?, and On Being, which are my favorite podcasts ever; and my busy, hectic schedule that includes my Betsy playing soccer for the middle school girls' team, and my cheer girls-I think that it's impossible not to feel loved when 8 and 9 year olds hug you goodbye when they leave cheer practice.

Fall is my favorite season of all time, and I love absolutely every moment I get to spend in my Rix Mills, breathing in pumpkins and watching my real bend in the road turn to beautiful colors and wearing big sweatshirts and cheering on my Buckeyes and my Browns, even as they teach me every week the agony of loving a team with no focus.

I don't know that I will ever not feel panic over the idea that I honestly have no idea what I'm doing. Other people seem to know at the very least how to meet people and not seem like a babbling idiot. But I'm working on it. I promise.

"I know you didn't realize
That the city was gone
You thought there would be advertisements
To give you something to go on
So we search the sky
For any flashing signs
We've gone too far beyond
The border it's just you and I
And if this is the end
It's the best place I've ever been."

Thursday, August 10, 2017


There's a lot I don't write about.

I'm saying this because sometimes I'm sure that people think I dwell on my ex-husband way too much. I would agree with you. But allow me to explain why that is.

This process, this untangling of myself from someone that I loved once, this freedom to become an entirely different person not defined by decisions made at the age of 21, and most importantly this acceptance that this new bend in the road has led to places that I never expected to even glance at, much less travel to-this process is important. To me, anyway. If other people glean something from my journey, that is wonderful, that is what the idea of writing all of this down actually means. But allow me to assure you, I don't write it all down for public consumption.

I write for so many reasons I can barely begin to list them all. I write to find clarity, I write to make sense of so many thoughts racing through my head, I write for solace. I started this blog as an exercise in writing because I missed it, because it had been my whole world at one time and it had become something that I longed to have the time to focus on. 2011 seems long ago and far away.

The blog has morphed into an outlet for my divorce. I can't put to words why that is. Why owning something that I am so personally ashamed of is such a release. But somehow putting words on paper, writing down emotions that I mostly want to shut away and pretend aren't there, it helps me to accept that this is who I am now. It's been a long, hard two years-I changed in ways I can't undo and that had the effect of hurting people that I love. I never meant for that to happen.

Changing what I looked like, changing the way I present myself to the world-that was the easy part. Accepting parts of myself that I don't like, parts of myself that I have a hard time even admitting are there-that is where I'm at now. Writing things down helps. It makes me think in a different way. It takes my attention away from whatever tiny thing that I'm writing about-be it my horrible attempts at flirting or my anger at myself for wanting to meet someone but my immediate shying away from anyone who seems remotely interested in me-and it turns it into something that makes sense. Ultimately I may always be embarrassed by my naiveté when it comes to dating and what have you, but somehow writing it down makes it have a purpose.

I realize that much of my writing is about my sadness over my divorce. I'm still so in the process of dealing with a lot of emotions that are hard for me to put words to. I don't mean to belabor the fact that I'm sad. But it seems important to unwind what grief is-I find myself pulled toward poems and songs and anything that grapples with what it means to lose something that you cherished at one time. But I don't mean to say that I only feel sadness. That I am unable to move forward. That my life is forever going to be one long ache for the marriage that I had.

I am a romantic at heart, and truly want to believe that I will find love-there is a piece of my heart that thrills at the idea that what I thought of as the love of my life was merely the appetizer to the real thing. But it's important to me that I don't minimize my feeling of loss over something that I held sacred. To do that would be to trivialize anything that comes next.

So, while I certainly understand why it might appear that I am stuck in an unending tailspin of grief over what I have lost, I am equally looking with hope to the future. Perhaps the melancholy tends to overshadow my writing because I feel a comfort in the sadness. But the joy is there too. The joy is there too.

Monday, August 7, 2017


"I'll say I loved you years ago...tell myself you never loved me..."

There are days that I feel amazing. There are days that stretch before me with wonder and hope and joy and clarity. There are days with the girls that I feel full to the brim with love, that I feel overjoyed to have met Nick and gotten married and had these girls that fill every inch of my heart.

"Shatter your illusions of love..."

There are days that I feel so low I cannot begin to put words to them. They are a soft, throbbing melody of pain and regret and sorrow for the girl that I was, for the sadness that surrounds my every memory of my life for 15 years, always wondering, 'was that real? Were we happy? Is that the moment that everything shifted? If I could go back in time and not say that or look at him in that way or think a different thought, would that change everything? What butterfly wing did my life perch on that fell away when I wasn't paying attention?'

"Loving you isn't the right thing to can I ever change things that I feel..."

There are days in between. There are days of routine and habit and pushing myself to try new things and hiding out in my room and needing to be alone and feeling so lonely I could die and wishing I had someone, anyone, to talk to.

"I've been afraid of changing cause I built my life around you..."

My days are made up of everything and nothing. Over and over until I think that there surely can be nothing more to say on this topic. This beaten horse has surely died a million times over.

"Like a heartbeat that drives you the stillness remembering what you had..."

Dreary, rainy days in August make my heart ache for summers past. Make my heart wish for the grace to move forward. And the courage to live in the dark abyss that is the in between.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Lot To Handle Me...

Let me be clear: I am very, very bad at dating.

Like, painfully bad.

This has always been true. I'm not great at small talk. I talk much too loudly just in general, and I have a terrible tendency to babble on and on when I'm nervous. And if I'm talking, I'm nervous.

I didn't properly practice dating when I was a teenager. Never have I regretted anything more. Maybe if I had spent my days learning on someone-anyone-how to flirt, instead of just watching Meg Ryan movies and convincing myself that magic would just happen and that the right guy wouldn't want me to be anything but my geeky, loud self...

I still sort of think that. That the right guy will just want me, flaws and all.

It's so hard to quantify and put into words what it is like to just meet the person that you would gladly take a bullet for and have them feel the same way about you and you just sort of skip all the dating part and just start living your life together because it seems like it's always been that way. But that is what Nick and I did. We went on a tiny little handful of dates before we said "I love you," and basically moved in together. In retrospect, that seems like not the best idea I've ever had. But at the time it seemed like, how else would you do this? It was sudden and fierce and wonderful. Even if I had the sense to question it, I doubt that I would have done anything differently. I have read about studies that prove that when you fall in love, the part of your brain that is activated is the same part of your brain that is stimulated by heroin. I have certainly never done heroin, but I completely believe this to be true-I was addicted to Nick from the moment I met him. The final two years of my marriage were hard and hurtful, but I clung to him like the junkie that I was.

I know in my head that these two years alone have been like my rehab. I needed to be alone, to figure out who I am and why I allowed myself to fall so far apart over something that had clearly become so unhealthy. And it may take years and years more. It may take forever. Which is a horribly depressing thought, but a very true one.

I honestly believe that I am so uncomfortable on dates because I haven't learned everything that I'm supposed to be learning yet. The truth is, I want to fall in love like I did before, and not have it end this time. All of the good with none of the bad. And that is just not realistic at all. So I'm clearly not in a head space to really be dating yet.

In the meantime, I just write and pray and write. I'm trying to be brave about what I write on the blog. To allow myself to express my feelings, even when they really just serve to embarrass me with how little I know about what I am doing.

And hope that someday I am able to write down how I figured all of this out.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tiny Dancer...

"And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand."

I always wanted a Betsy.

Her name wasn't Betsy at the time. Her name when I was growing up was always Brad, which eleven year old me thought was the coolest girl name ever of all time, because of a show called Hey Dude.

But, anyway, I always wanted a little girl.

When Betsy was a baby, we had so much fun together. We had tea parties and played princesses. Until Betsy could talk more, and told me in no uncertain terms that she really preferred horses (though she did love My Little Pony, so that was sort of girly) and sports and climbing trees and being with her dad. Nick was her hero, and I was that lady that was always there.

She loved me, don't get me wrong. But I was always at home, or with her wherever she was. Nick went off to an exotic place called "work." Betsy was a Daddy's girl, through and through.

My little tomboy has reached a crossroads this past year. Twelve and a half is awkward and moody and just mostly a lot of worry. All the time. About everything.

She still loves Star Wars and soccer and climbing trees. She secretly plays Barbies with her sister. She had her first boyfriend last year, and her first date, but she wasn't super jazzed about either. She understands that most of her friends are starting to be interested in boys, but she is ambivalent toward the whole thing.

I remember twelve. It seems like just yesterday that I was in the seventh grade, writing notes to my friends during class, making up secret sandwich names for boys so that we could talk about them without them knowing who we were talking about. (I loved Lettuce. Who was Tommy Werner. Just in case you wondered.)

Twelve is lots of wonderful things. Twelve is being brave enough to ride the really big rides at amusement parks. Twelve is old enough to ride in the front seat of the car and "navigate" for your directionally challenged mother. Twelve is watching all of the movies, staying up late and sleeping in, and having a room that is such a mess your mother just gives up on asking you to clean and simply requests a path to the rabbit cage.

Twelve is also hard. Twelve is not wanting to go swimming at the local pool anymore. Twelve is feeling prickly and sad and funky, all for no reason.

Add to that a personality of wanting to please everyone, and perfectionistic tendencies, and twelve can be pretty rough.

One of the side effects of my divorce is that Betsy and I are close in a way that we didn't used to be. I'm not just that lady who is always around anymore. I became her connection to the world for a while, when life was too confusing and overwhelming and sad. We were sad together. We grieved together. And we learned together, fought together, and spent the past two years growing up together.

When they handed Betsy to me in the hospital, when I finally got to look into those beautiful blue eyes, I cried and said, "I love you," over and over. I was so overwhelmed to meet this person that I had been waiting for my whole life. It was the best moment of my entire life.

I want to hold her still and tell her that I know in my heart that everything will work out, that despite her whole world turning upside down two years ago, and then all of the loveliness of puberty on top of that, life will turn out just like it's supposed to.

I don't know that I believe that anymore.

But I believed that with all of my twelve year old heart. Awkward and shy and nerdy as I was, I believed that someday I would fall in love and get married and have a beautiful little girl. And I did. Times two.

Maybe that should be enough.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Full of Grace...

I'm weird.

This is a given.

I've always been awkward and a good bit shy and at the same time overly loud.

Before you get to know me, you think that I am the quietest person in the world, and once you know me, you think that I seem to never shut up.

I'm a walking mass of contradictions-I don't want attention, but I do want to be heard, for my opinion to count for something. What I really want if I'm being completely honest is for you to think that I am a lot more interesting than I seem at first glance.

Life right now is very jarring. When I have the girls, my life is so full to the brim with their lives, their energy, their passions, I can barely stop to breathe. And then they leave for the week and my life comes to almost a complete and total stop, life becomes about quiet and books and rearranging the furniture again.

I've never lived alone before.

I recently told one of my closest friends that I think that Nick and I always felt like we were pretending to be grownups. It felt like someone gave us our life-Nick's job, and these two girls, and our house-and we were expected to know what to do, and how to save money, and, in short, "be adults."

I hate saying that, because in truth I know that we did a lot of things correctly-I figured out how to be the mom that I wanted to be, and I think that Nick figured out how to be the dad that he wanted to be. We bought furniture and appliances and cooked dinner and lived what surely resembled a normal life. We did things that felt so important-I taught Sunday School and was the Girl Scout leader and Nick helped to coach softball-they were practically jobs outside of normal life.

But we messed up endlessly. We were neither good at budgeting, or the careful planning that big expenses needed. We were both dreamers-not so much doers. We knew what we wanted life to look like, we just lacked any kind of map to get us there.

Nick leaving was like being thrown into the deep end of the ocean-I had to figure out how to tread water and eventually to swim. I'm still treading water but I'm so in amazement of how well I have learned to swim. I budget. Wisely. I make big decisions for sound reasons and not just based on how I feel at the moment. I don't just dream about what life is going to be someday, I take concrete steps to get to where I need to be.

When I look back on this time in my life, I'm going to realize that this was the greatest gift Nick ever gave to me. As lonely and stressful and maddening as living through all of this grief has been, this new person, this adult Joy, carved out of broken promises and such a great deal of hurt, she is strong and capable and fierce(ish). And weird. As ever.

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Shot...

I listen to the soundtrack for Hamilton every single day.

I'm pretty sure I drive my co-workers crazy, because not only do I listen to it every day, but I also tend to play it on a loop.

Of all my celebrity crushes, my biggest is on Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I loved him long before Hamilton.

I, as you know, am a musical theatre geek, and I first fell in love with Lin when I watched a PBS special about his first Broadway musical, In the Heights. The documentary was basically a behind the scenes look at someone making their first musical, the vast amount of work that goes into a show that could close in a week, but in the case of In the Heights go on to win the Tony award for best musical in 2008.

What I took from this documentary and carried with me for all of these years was that this man, this Lin-Manuel, who is one year younger than me, was never going to be able to live up to this billing. I adored him-I found him to be so well spoken and charming and fascinating-but I knew, in my wizened age, that lightning doesn't strike twice. Producing one amazing musical, one book of such importance-nothing that this man ever did could live up to this "coming out," as the documentary put it.

Enter Hamilton.

So, what goes through my mind every day when I listen to the amazing feats of a founding father that I knew was important to banking but, like everyone, I didn't realize his true importance until Lin wrote 46 songs that explained it all to me-what goes through my mind is, why was I so certain that this was impossible? What happened to me that made me believe that dreams need to end upon your first success, and if they don't, if you dare fly toward that sun again, you will surely get burned?

I'm not sure. I know that the birth of Betsy was the culmination of all of my dreams, and the birth of Felicity was the icing on top of the cake. That I could have one daughter was a miracle. Me, the girl who dreamed so hard of having a family, who talked about her imaginary children like they were real for as long as anyone remembers, and the girl who never had a boyfriend, ever-that girl somehow managed to have all of her dreams come true.

Dreaming beyond that seems impossible. What dreams I harbor now are for my girls to be contented and free and blessed. Growing up with them, which make no doubt is exactly what I'm doing, is fun and my favorite part of my life. I exasperate my family and most of my friends because, as I have grown fond of saying, "I want to be invited to the party but I don't want to go." I want to be seen. I even want to be heard. But beyond that, I can't function. And I can't even find proper words to express that. Words have never failed me before, but when it comes to what my future is supposed to look like outside of my girls, I am at a total loss.

Enter Hamilton. Again.

Pick up the pieces. Keep moving forward. Write and write and write.

And someday, this will all make sense.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Back to the Future...

All 80s, all the time summer.

It's such fun.

How did all 80s, all the time summer come into being? Well, I claimed it for myself a few years ago and what I mainly meant was that Nick and I watched 80s movies all summer. It was fun.

Then, of course, summer 2015 happened.

Last year was better, but the girls and I were still adjusting to how summer works in this new family that we have created from broken pieces of the old family. At this particular juncture in life, summer means that the girls are with Nick during the week and with me on the weekends. So, you know, backwards and inside out from normal.

But this year all 80s, all the time summer is making a comeback. And it's even better than before because sharing movies with my girls is so much fun. I dread the day that they outgrow watching movies with their mom, eating popcorn and junk food and just basically living the slumber party part of being a house full of girls that makes my life as it exists now a delight.

So, anyway, all 80s, all the time does take a slight bit of planning. Because, after all, I am me and I'm pretty type A. But I try not to overthink it or it becomes a chore, one more thing I have to do. And that is most definitely not what the 80s was about- the 80s was about fun and glamour and Molly Ringwald.

All 80s, all the time summer involves things other than just the movies. It involves all 80s music in the car, and 80s board games for game nights. For me personally, it involves rereading my favorite books (Sweet Valley, Baby-sitter's Club, and some classic Lois Duncan) and also trying to catch up with some that I missed (I am currently trying to read all the Madeleine L'Engle that I somehow sadly neglected as a young adult).

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick is one of my most favorite books of all time. I love reading about what other people love reading and this particular collection is so wonderful because it is completely full of books from the late 1970s and 1980s that just sound delicious. I'm not quite sure why I love reading what other people think of things so much, but I definitely do, and hearing about your favorite 80s novel that you treasured in junior high just thrills me-all the more if you are just slightly older than me, and so can speak with a sort of wisdom that I'm always stretching toward but never quite manage. I'm never going to be as cool as I find people to be who were born in the early 1970s, it's just a fact of life.

Shelf Discovery is a great collection of somewhat more serious young adult lit. There isn't much discussion of the luscious Wakefield twins and other books of their ilk, so if you are into that sort of thing, let me point you toward the Cliquey Pizza website. There are actually 3 of these websites for some reason, and all feature stacks of books that I would love to get my hands on from the 1980s. The reviews that she has are great, but the vision was clearly grander than the reality. I have an idea in the back of my head to someday have a blog devoted solely to these guilty pleasure reads, just to create what it is that I'm searching for, but for the time being, that is just going to have to live in my head.

Retro Hell is also a cool book devoted to both 1970s and 1980s pop culture. It's meant to be read more like a dictionary but I always start on page one and read all the way through. I'm a nerd.

But, of course, all 80s all the time summer is mostly about the movies. According to the girls, that's the fun part. My go to reference guide to all 80s movies is Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies by Jonathan Bernstein. I bought this book by chance at WaldenBooks way back when I was 16 and I loved it so much that I bought two more copies to give my best friends, Michelle and Tanya. We all three adored 80s movies and mostly spent our Saturday nights at the Cinema Shop watching as many as we could find. Bernstein takes to task these movies, and he loves some that I'm iffy on, and vice versa, but it's just mostly just a delight.

So, what is my 80s watch list? I will tell you. But I do have some caveats. I can't chose anything that is very scary because I have a highly sensitive child who feels permanently scarred by my insistence on watching Hocus Pocus every October. Additionally, I try to not choose anything that I think is too blue. I do let them watch some stuff that is more raunchy than I probably should (Vacation has a lot of bad language and sex, but who am I to deny them the pleasure of watching John Candy be forced to ride roller coasters at BB gun point?) And this list is in no particular order other than when a movie popped into my head making this list.

1. Footloose
2. Fame
3. Summer School
4. Mystic Pizza
5. The Princess Bride
6. Pretty In Pink
7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
8. Weird Science
9. The Breakfast Club
10. Pretty in Pink
11. Can't Buy Me Love
12. The Karate Kid
13. The Outsiders
14. Xanadu
15. Adventures in Babysitting
16. Back to the Future
17. Caddyshack
18. The Lost Boys
19. Dream a Little Dream
20. E.T.
21. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
22. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
23. Ghostbusters
24. The Goonies
25. Just One of the Guys
26. License To Drive
27. Vacation
28. European Vacation
29. Say Anything...
30. War Games
31. St. Elmo's Fire
32. Dirty Dancing
33. Mannequin
34. Maid to Order
35. Happy Together

I could go on and on. I was trying to keep it to 24, because that would be two movies every weekend. But I just had to get a few more in there. I'm learning to be okay if we don't get to everything. It's part of my learning to be an adult.

Anyway, this post is likely not that interesting to most people. But I hope that there are at least a couple of other 80s lovers in my orbit. I know in my head that my poor college professor who told me that no good music was made past 1975 simply lived in a different era- she wasn't a child looking up to super cool high schoolers with big hair and shoulder pads, dreaming of the day she would join their ranks. Of course, by the time I got to high school all of that 80s glitz had dissipated into 90s grunge. Which I love in its own way. But that is another blog post for another day.

For this summer, I'll stick with my most beloved John Hughes and Debbie Gibson and try to pretend that I will ever be as cool as someone born about eight years earlier than me.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A cold and broken Hallelujah...

I'm pretty positive that I have PTSD.

I have never been officially diagnosed with that, but I have had lots of therapy and I lived with someone who had severe PTSD for 15 years, so I'm confident in saying that PTSD is among the side effects of my divorce.

This post is really not about that, though.

This post is about my life these past 2 years, about what pulled me out of a spiral that nearly killed me. I am writing this particular post because all I wanted to know when my world crumbled was what to do. I asked anyone that I knew who was divorced, "How did you handle this?" "What happens now?" "Please tell me how to fix this, how to live this, how to be divorced." Because, like I hope all people who vow to love someone forever, I had no intention of having that end. I felt so at sea, so lost as to where to even begin to piece my life back together.

I'm still piecing it together, of course.

But I have, mostly through sheer trial and error, figured out some things that helped. And I feel compelled to share that on here, just in case someone stumbles across this blog that needs to hear any of this. That scared girl that I was 2 years ago-this is what she wanted to hear, to know, to feel in her bones, just so that she would know that things would be okay. Hard as it is to believe, Joy Elizabeth, we are still alive and breathing and figuring life out.

The absolute most aching time in this whole process was the very beginning. And I knew that even at the time, in that scary fog that I was operating in, I kept saying to myself, "This part sucks. But the next part will be better." I had no idea if that was true, but I needed to believe it. My main coping mechanism has been to just pretend that I'm okay until I actually feel okay. But this was the hardest part-I was down a dark hole, barely able to function at all, unable to eat, unable mostly to even get out of bed.

Somehow, and I so wish that I could remember how this happened because I sadly do not, I managed to get up out of bed. I forced myself to eat once a day until I had anything of an appetite.

And when I emerged from that particular black hole, I was pretty skinny.

It was the first thing that people noticed. I got a lot of positive feedback because of it. And that is the one thing that I genuinely wish for anyone who has to go through a terribly dark period, because it felt good to hear, "Well, you look great."

Now, naturally, starving is not a good thing to do to yourself.

However, the hard part was done. What was left for me to do was maintain a smaller body in a healthy way. And that is what I have managed to do for these 2 years so far. I gave up bread, I eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and I eat some protein with every meal in order to maintain muscle.

I work out every day. I do a combination of yoga and abdominal work and I lift weights. I'm never going to be a cut, lean body builder. But I do find that starting my day with exercise clears my head. I call it eating my frog. One of my co-workers went to a training once where they told you, if there is something that you need to do every day that you don't particularly want to do, do it first. And then you will have "eaten the frog" for the day.

Trust me, this was not a panacea. For almost a year, I couldn't bear to think that anyone saw even the smallest flaw in my appearance. It came from a very deep seeded belief that if someone saw a flaw-any blemish at all -they would see immediately that I was a girl who was so unperfect her husband had to abandon his family to get away from her.

I have slowly begun to make my peace with that.

I'm trying to allow myself the space to allow my scars to show, the space to feel crazy and different and who I am, inside of a body that is as unperfect as the rest of me. I'm not going to lie, it's hard. What if I gain weight and no one ever asks me out again? What if all I have from the past two years of struggling to move forward is that I look better? It's complicated and tricky. Yes, I know that I am much more than my body. Yes, I know that looks are superficial. But I can't really overstate how important it is to me that I look different.

It's like a baptism by fire. This process burned away all of these parts of me that were clouded in self-doubt, these parts of me that believed that somehow just being as passive as is humanly possible was a positive character trait. I want to look like a different person because I am a different person. The old Joy is still inside of me, scars and all. But who I am is fundamentally different and I can't go back. And that, in my experience, is the hallmark of a PTSD survivor. It's hard to describe, there aren't words that I can get my arms around to adequately explain that sharp before and after to my life.

I am a person slowly (oh, so slowly) coming into her own as a fully functioning adult. I don't have all the answers. I feel ashamed that I fell so far apart over losing my marriage because there are people in this world who have lost far more than me. I'm a blessed person and I know that with every beat of my heart. But I absolutely have to own that shame, and that sadness, because I want to be able to say, here is a small step that will help. Here is a tiny speck of hope. Even if the only person that I am truly writing this for is that scared girl that I was 2 years ago, unsure of how to begin to emerge from that dark abyss.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My dearest Anne...

I hate change.

I'm sure that this is not surprising to you. Heavens, the focus of this blog has become my snail-like pace of healing over my divorce-in fact, I don't write on the blog all that much precisely because I feel like it's nothing new to read about the most small little steps that I have managed.

Anyway, I hate change and therefore most of the things that I most adore are from my childhood. If I lived in a perfect world, I would go home to late 1980s/early 1990s music, television, movies, clothes, you name it. I know in my head that it has been 20 years since I graduated from high school, and in those 20 years the world has changed in amazing and most wonderful ways. I can remember reading a review for The Net when it came out and the reviewer saying, "You can't actually order a pizza online." And I think about how basically my entire world is online now, and it has made shopping so easy, and I can connect with people that I actually know in real life and people that I have never met but now love beyond recognition, like Jamie Golden, who is just perhaps the funniest person ever in the world.

But in my heart, which is, as we know, an entirely different beast, I long for my Wilson Phillips tapes and my pegged jeans and for TV movies about proms that aren't in any way ironic. Thus, I am none too jazzed about this remix of Anne of Green Gables on Netflix. I love my Anne in giant puff sleeves, I love my Gilbert mooning over Anne in an obsessed manner but not so sissy that I can't see his appeal, and there is only one Marilla Cuthbert, and that is Colleen Dewhurst.

I don't want Anne to be gritty. I don't want Anne to be someone that I, as a middle American white girl with two living parents, cannot relate to. My Anne is, was, and always shall be Megan Follows.

I watched the CBC Anne of Green Gables well before I read the book. This book, I might add, is what I will answer if you ask my favorite book ever of all time. And yet-I love the miniseries more. That is how hard I fell for this magical production that would turn up on PBS every pledge season like clockwork.

I read Anne (all eight books) to Betsy a few years ago and I was struck at the time by how much I truly love the miniseries considering all of the liberties Kevin Sullivan took with things that I genuinely love in the book. I forgive Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables Part II, if you are in Canada) its many missteps because I love the character of Emmaline, who I do realize I resemble far more than Anne, and I love Morgan Harris, and I love that Anne utters my most favorite line of all human time, which sadly is not in the actual book, "I discovered that it's not what the world holds for you, it's what you bring to it."

Anne came into my life at the most precious time, when I was forming who I am and what I bring to the world. And she encouraged me to create-to think that what I had to say has merit.

And I have been writing ever since. There are many times that my writing, especially on this blog, just seems like the same drum beat again and again. I long for a day to be able to write a blog post about a change in my life, about a new person and a new love and everything that goes with it. But I just can't quite get there. I try-I have been asked out, I have even been on dates, I attempt to flirt with people, which is frankly just a lot of me being awkward, but my practice person at least seems somewhat okay with it.

For now though-for now I am learning what it is to be myself, which is a kind of wicked cool thing to do as a grown adult. And my touchpoint for who the heck it is that I am, that's Anne Shirley. She never loses hope, she never looks at life as a struggle but as an adventure.

She is my true north. And she's in a 1980s puff sleeve concoction that may seem dated and silly in this gritty, real 2017. She is who I long to be.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Me Without You...

Yesterday my Facebook feed told me a story about a girl who told all of the Instagram/Facebook/(possibly Twitter?) world of how much she loves her ex-boyfriend who she never has to ask for money and who will drop everything to be with her and their child in a moment's time.

This tends to have the effect of shattering my heart.

Prior to being divorced, I would have read such an article and thought how wonderful, how adult, how exactly the way that Nick and I would behave. I believed with all of my heart that Nick and I would remain the best of friends always, that nothing could touch our friendship. Our marriage may lay in pieces, but the friendship would stay intact. "We will be us without the sex," I told him. And he said yes.

It was a wonderful goal to have, but it wasn't realistic at all.

This is not to say that we are not friends. It is a friendship that I have worked tirelessly to curate out of tremendous upheaval and frankly, hurt, and I honestly would not trade it for the world. It is the best thing for the girls to see us co-existing together, happy for one another, being grownups and loving each other in this new and profoundly different way.


There are many days that I wish I could go back in time to that sad girl I was a year ago and put my arms around her and tell her, it is okay to feel hurt. It is okay to feel angry. It is okay to feel.

When the third big terrible happened, as I have repeatedly said, I fell apart. I fell into a dark, deep hole that was terrifying. Climbing out of that hole was the single hardest thing I have ever done. And once I managed to start making headway out of it, the last thing that I wanted to do was to fall back to that place. So you downshift into survivor mode. You live everyday with strict boundaries around your actions, your thoughts, your feelings. Because if you let yourself feel anything, you will be feeling everything, swimming in emotions that are much too fragile to handle.

I have come to view my heart as a thicket. Full of memories, of emotions, of pain and loss and grief-and full of happiness, and joy, and wonder. Being patient with myself, allowing myself to feel things as they come and go in waves-it took forever for me to feel at peace with that. But once I did-once I allowed myself to understand that I wasn't going to fall apart just because this monster of emotions seemed to be threatening my very existence-I was able to deal enough to get through a day. Through a night. Through an entire weekend.

Now, what has this anything to do with Facebook girl and her boyfriend?

Simply this. My grief is my grief. My divorce is my divorce. Divorce brings lovely side effects into your life-shattered trust, entirely new people, decisions that you would rather not be forced to make. All of this takes time to heal, to maneuver, to learn what to fight for and what to let go of. For me, with my particular personality, it is hard to not want to be the best. I want to be the best ex-wife. I want to be the best co-parent. I have to force myself-and with me, that is a daily battle-to understand that I'm not going to be a delightful ex-wife every second of my life. Nick and I are doing well, but we aren't taking selfies with each other and waxing poetic about how lucky we are to be in each other's lives.

Of course, as I am writing this, I am seeing how completely self-centered I am being. Other people are not looking at me and judging my decisions nearly as much as I think they do. But I write to figure things out. Most of my life is written on pieces of paper that no one else ever sees. But sometimes I write and put it out there because I think that it may speak to someone else. Someone on this journey, or a similar one, who is beating themselves up every time they see a couple co-parenting and envy that relationship. Because everyone's journey is different. What steps led to their divorce are different. What relationship exists now is likely not one that existed before.

I am grateful for the relationship that I have with Nick. When I look at him now, I only see him as Betsy and Felicity's dad. There was a time when I didn't think that I could ever do that, that I could ever look at him and not see that boy that I fell so desperately in love with, that man that I vowed to love until I die.

But that is the grace that I have been given. That love has changed and shifted until it has found its place of solace. Of understanding that the love that I have for Nick at this stage is that of a friend that I talk to but that I'm not especially close to. And that's okay. It may not make me the best ex-wife, but it makes me human.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Few Of My Favorite Things...

Two of my loves in this lifetime are Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.

Every morning Betsy and I watch Kathie Lee and Hoda from the previous day. (I watch while doing my workout, Betsy watches while lying on my bed until 5 minutes before we have to leave, when she finally puts on her clothes. Oh, to be 12.)

Anyway, I love, love, love Kathie Lee and Hoda. I love that they talk about silly things (my favorite segment every week is when Amanda Avery, who is just a normal person who works on their show, does a recap of The Bachelor-I don't watch The Bachelor, not being snobby, I tried to watch it, but I just couldn't deal with the emotional distress-but I love to hear Amanda talk about The Bachelor because she loves it.) I love that they drink wine and make perfect food that I will never attempt and try out beauty products that I will never buy, because it's just fun.

(I am also convinced that Hoda named her new baby Haley Joy because we are cosmically connected, but Betsy thinks that this is hogwash.)

Every week, Hoda and Kathie Lee share their favorite things. So all of that is my long winded way of saying, this blog post is about some of my favorite things from this week.

Good Mythical Morning What's On My Head? featuring Mayim Bialik.

I love Mayim always. This is hysterically funny, especially if you stay for Mayim's second turn with the thing on her head.

What Should I Read Next? Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast.

I love Anne Bogel. She is my bestest friend on the internet. She blogs at Modern Mrs. Darcy, runs the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club (which is so much fun, well worth the $10 a month that it costs to join), and she puts out this podcast every week. She asks her guests to tell her 3 books they love, 1 book they hate, and what they are currently reading, and then she gives them 3 recommendations for what to read next. I anxiously await Tuesdays now, which is when the new podcast drops.

(In case you were wondering, my three books would be Anne of Green Gables, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Columbine, my hated book would be literally anything written by Nicholas Sparks, and my current read is This is How It Always Is.)

And lastly, my favorite thing this week is Big Little Lies. The miniseries is airing on HBO right now, and my dear friend Jennifer came over last Sunday and we lived it up with a glass of wine and non-stop talking and enjoying this show. I cannot recommend the book enough (several people have had to endure me saying, "Let me tell you about this book..." and then on and on in the past few weeks). The miniseries is not the book, but it is lovely, and Nicole Kidman is fantastic, and Reese Witherspoon is my bestest friend on Instagram (I have bestest friends in quite a few pockets of the Internet).

I am so ready for the weekend. It's my weekend with the girls, so we are going to the LMIS spaghetti dinner tonight and then chilling out all weekend, enjoying our delightful girl time. I am the luckiest mom in all the world. And that is my favorite thing ever.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Love is a Mix Tape...

I'm a mix tape kind of girl.

Or, I used to be, back when people listened to cassette tapes. I personally didn't give up cassettes until long after most normal people had MP3 players.

In the here and now of 2017, being good at making mix tapes is probably akin to being a great bowling alley pin setter. Obsolete.

In any case, I am good at making mix tapes, particularly ones with overriding themes of love and angst that seem completely obvious to me but I'm fairly certain always just sailed over Nick's head. When Nick was in Iraq, I made mix tapes and sent them to him every week. I did occasionally make mixes of just country songs, per his request, because, you know, he liked country.

But my favorite mix tapes were the ones that told a story, that illustrated through music how a girl like me was able to fall for a boy like him. And one of them I titled, "My Love Affair (No Doubt the Love of My Life)." Which was, of course, the story of Nick and me and our entire relationship through No Doubt songs.

Divided into "Before" and "After," it told the story of a girl who desperately wanted to fall in love and get married and have babies on the before side, and of the girl who found what she wanted despite, you know, life not being perfect all the time on the after side. (Oh, sometimes I do long for the days when my life not being perfect was just about my life not measuring up to a Nora Ephron movie.)

Gwen Stefani seems like she could possibly be my best friend in a world where either she is not famous, or where I am. Lyrically, anyway, she loves like me. Deep and all-encompassing and rather embarrassing, really. I lived in a world where all I wanted were these children and the perfect life to go with it. And so her lyric, "All I needed was a simple man, so I could be a wife," resonated with my soul.

Putting all of those lyrics together, piecing together my life as someone else might write it, made complete and total sense to me at age 24.

When Gwen and Gavin announced that they were divorcing, it was like a week after Nick had packed up his things and left. In my sad, pathetic state, it seemed so obvious that those songs that had given my love a voice would ultimately end in heartbreak. Because wanting a family so badly that you will give up all of your dreams for it cannot truly be healthy.

When Gwen released This Is What The Truth Feels Like last year, I scooped it up, hoping to find the balm for my weary soul. But this is Gwen's falling in love with Blake album. There are only four songs on the whole album that are about Gavin, and written in Gwen's bouncy, pop music way, they weren't the sad, grieving songs that I was aching for.

My divorce mix tape looks something like this:

"Full of Grace" by Sarah McLachlan
"Landslide" by the Dixie Chicks (yes, I normally go for originals, but this one is my divorce one)
"The Cowboy in Me" by Tim McGraw
"Foolish Games" by Jewel
"I'm Not That Girl" by Idina Menzel (from Wicked)
"I Got The Boy" by Jana Kramer
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley (again, not the original, but I love Buckley's version)
"Do What You Have To Do" by Sarah McLachlan
"Beloved Wife" by Natalie Merchant
"Peter Pan" by Kelsea Ballerini
"Bluest Eyes In Texas" by Restless Heart
"Girl Crush" by Little Big Town
"Sweet Surrender" by Sarah McLachlan

Heavy on Sarah McLachlan. Those particular Sarah McLachlan songs inspired a story out of me back in my college days about the grief of a young widow. It rather shocked me when I slipped that CD in a few months ago, expecting to bring up that story in my mind's eye, and instead finding myself faced with the death of my marriage.

But it is a death. And I did grieve it. So very hard.

Life has taken a turn the past few weeks. An entire year has passed since my divorce. My therapist told me that she thinks that I am in a good place. I feel in a good place. I feel happy and light and free in ways I couldn't have imagined before.

I've said that before. This process has been achingly slow. Grief comes and goes in waves that overwhelm and then dissipate and then gnaw ever so softly away at me. I'm so hopeful that this time, this joy that I'm feeling, this excitement at the idea that my life is still mine-I'm hoping that it sticks around.

So, I'm currently listening to Gwen and her happy, bouncy post-divorce music. I may not be in love, but I am looking ahead and seeing a girl not defined entirely by sadness.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Making My Way Past Crazy...

I'm trying something new this year. I'm trying to not get bogged down in a goal of reading x books per year. I'm trying to give myself some leeway, picking up books that interest me, whether they are "great literature" or not. I used to read everything, and a hundred books every year, and tons of other books that didn't count because I didn't really want anyone to know that I read them.

Last year, or maybe the year before, I read Patton Oswalt's book, Silver Screen Fiend: Learning about Life from an Addiction to Film, which is an exceptional read. Basically Patton described my OCD crazy tendencies in a way that helped me to grasp how out of control I let my hobbies get. He describes his notebook, in which he writes down every movie that he sees and how it only counts if he a) sees the movie in a theatre and b) sees every moment of the film from beginning to end. If he misses even one second of the start of the movie, it doesn't count, doesn't get to be recorded as having officially been "seen."

So, that crazy spoke to me. Big time. I have all of these rules that govern everything in my world, and I have been ever so slowly letting go of them in the past year. It's enjoyable to not be held to small minutiae but it is incredibly difficult. A lot of that just has to do with my brain, and the fact that I created these rules for myself 20 years ago and thus have lived quite faithfully by them for all of my adult life. It does help, though, to have your life fall apart at every conceivable seam-it doesn't matter that you always cleaned the bathrooms on Mondays, that you always did the New York Times crossword in ink, that you diligently recorded every book, movie, and television show (which are but a few of the things that I was convinced were holding my life together). It sounds so insane-to convince yourself that the way that the dishes are arranged in the cupboard is somehow precariously holding your world together and that simply monitoring them and making sure they never move an inch to the left is somehow doing something to keep your head afloat. But that's my crazy.

I'm getting better, though. So far this year I have read 3 books and am working on a 4th to be finished this week-not because I have to read a book a week but because it's a really great read that I am loving. Letting go of "I have to finish every book I start," I know will ultimately lead me to enjoying the books I am reading more, lead me to less drudging through a book I'm not enjoying just to say, 'oh yes, I've read that' when someone asks.

So, what I've read this past month:

The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang

The first book in my new "book club," which is just me and April reading a book together and talking about it. She is sending me a book every month that is a complete surprise to me until I open it, which is tons of fun. So far these are books that I have heard of but not too terribly well, and I don't read dust jackets, so it's sort of like diving into a book I know nothing about, which is far different than my normal book choices. This one was interesting to me in that it dealt with the financial collapse of 2008, and bits of it were very funny, particularly dealing with the oldest sister and her rise and fall in the art show world. However, it is difficult to feel sorry for the characters who are not written to be terribly likeable and the father character never became more than a caricature to my mind.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The "It" book of the season since the election, because it paints a portrait of life as a "hillbilly" in Kentucky and Ohio, I wanted to read this one from the moment I heard J.D. Vance interviewed on Fresh Air. Some of his experiences ring desperately true to me-I know exactly what it is like to grow up in Appalachia, and I have such a soft spot in my heart for those who were born and bred here and don't have any real desire to leave. It's a tricky book to navigate though-after all, Mr. Vance did leave Appalachia, and even though he really struggles to illustrate how difficult it was to fit in at Yale, he eventually does find his place, and a wife not from here, and his life just basically goes off in a different direction. Not that it shouldn't-the dream of many parents is that your child will go off to become something that you never even imagined you could dream him to be. However, it makes his conclusions ring with the air of one who left, one who is looking from the outside in. As much as I enjoyed the vast majority of the book, and even though I do not believe that he had intention to write anything other than love and kindness toward the Appalachian community, the ending comes off as though this is a thesis written for those on the coasts to let them know what kind of "other" exists in the Midwest. It's complicated.

That said, it is a good read, and it reminded me so much of a documentary that I watched many years ago on HBO called American Hollow. Directed by Rory Kennedy, it is an intimate look at an Appalachian family, their life and their dreams and their lifestyle. It is available on YouTube and so I watched it again and found it as profound as the first time that I saw it, 18 years ago and in college and completely unaware that I was about to meet a boy who would introduce me to this way of life.

As to the third book I have read in the past month, that is another blog post for another time.

For today, I am reading and enjoying my life and my girls and, yes, I still do the New York Times crossword in ink. But that is because I am a nerd. Not because I am crazy.