“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
This is the opening to Virginia Woolf’s famous 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a book about a lot of things, but mostly about day in the life of a woman who spends irrational amounts of time and energy preparing the details of a party, her party, despite the fact there is some serious emotional breakdancing busting beneath the surface and sometimes homegirl can barely keep it together. It’s a novel about time. It’s a novel about regret. It’s a novel about keeping skeletons in the closet. A beautifully decorated closet.
Sometimes, when I see bloggers spending large quantities of time on aspirational lifestyle posts, I’ll get very smug and I’ll secretly write them off into my pile of Mrs. Dalloways – people who would rather fixate on picking out flower arrangements for the internet than sorting out their in-person priorities. You probably know the type. The more uptight and perfection-like posts, the more suspicious I am of what goes on beneath the surface. Divorce? Self-loathing? Unstable finances? Hellion children? Irritable bowels?
I’m not apologizing for having those suspicions – unfortunately, they are correct more often not – but I will apologize for my own hypocrisy in perpetuating this cycle by ignoring my own unpleasantries for no other reason than they are unpleasant. Most of what you see on this site is contrived to be pretty, and although I like to think I show off my imperfections more than most, it has come to my attention that perhaps that is not case. Perhaps my skeleton closet has become too decorative to be functional.
A week ago my friend Dee tagged me on Instagram in one of those 20 Facts About Me posts, which I’m sure you have seen on social media before. You have probably done one yourself. I was hesitant because I didn’t think I had 20 interesting things to share, but I was also bored and killing time in a parking lot so I started typing away on my phone…my #1 was about tacos, #2 was about cats… by the time I got to #20 it was 7,000 words deep and talking about stuff I swore to never discuss in public. And it doesn’t matter how loud I sound my battle cry for authenticity, not all stories are mine to tell.
But you know what?
Some stories are mine to tell. They are 100% mine. And I cannot come up with any good reason to keep them to myself other than doing so would be what is expected of me. And it occurs to me now, that right there would make me the biggest Mrs. Dalloway of them all.
Oh hell no.
In 2012 a bunch of bloggers wrote confessional-style posts titled “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You” and I could not get enough of them. Despite my voracity as a reader, I was too timid or judgmental to join in.The thought of writing a post like this has sat in my mind but I never sat down to write it, that is, until Dee tagged me and then I wrote this post (and then some) without trying. Now it’s just a matter of editing.
So I guess that means I’m three years late to the party, but sometimes that happens when you are busy buying flowers.
1. I am terrified of losing everything.
When I joke around in my posts about having hoarding tendencies, it’s not really a joke. I’m not a legit hoarder yet, but that tapeworm lives inside me. I hold on to material things because the emotional ones have a history of getting away. The easy answer is that this comes from two dead parents by the age of 20, but really, I’m terrified of losing everything. Always. People often associate hoarding with childhoods in abject poverty, but my story could not be more different. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m going to break this down. I grew up in what my parents called, “financially comfortable surroundings” in a famously conservative town, on the edge of a golf course, just down the road from a former President of the United States. We had a nice house, a pool, a couple of convertibles…you get the picture. I rarely wore the same outfit twice. When I was 17 I graduated from a boarding school in Switzerland. When I was 18 my dad lost his mind. When I was 19 and we had lost everything, I shoved what I could fit into a Lexus sedan, then drove us (without a license or insurance) cross-country into a roach filled apartment in a questionable neighborhood. When I was 20, when my dad became terminally ill, I worked 3 jobs, not all of them legal, just to cover the extra medical costs that medicaid didn’t provide. Five months after diagnosis, he died alone because the hospital couldn’t reach me because the landline was disconnected and I couldn’t afford to buy cell phone minutes that week. The last night he was alive, instead of visiting him, I spent three hours waiting in line at a food pantry. While I was standing there, I remember being worried that someone might realize I was wearing a five-year old pair of $600 shoes.
Here is the thing. When you fall that far that fast, and when you feel that level of shame and financial instability, you never look at money or material goods the same way again. I’m not afraid of poverty and I am not impressed by financial wealth. I don’t have much, but what I do have is there because I put it there, and by that right, I am the only one who can take it away. I take great pleasure in putting value in things that mean something to me, not because of a price tag, but because of the love and meaning I infuse within them. I make every effort to understand and appreciate my surroundings. My environment. My clothing. My furniture. I won’t eat anything that I don’t know how to grow, kill and cook myself. Because it all boils down to this: When you understand what it takes to provide the conveniences of modern life, every day is an exercise in gratitude and wonder.
I can tell you with confidence, had I not lost everything, this never-ending hunger to be resourceful and create with my bare hands would not exist within me. This blog would not exist without that pain. I consider it my job, and my privilege, to use every day of my life to whittle that pain into joy. Sparkly, glittered, weird-yet-rad kind of joy. And although you might not always see how the sausage is made, or the fear in my eyes, or the Sanford and Son situation going on in my basement, just knowing y’all are here with me makes it a lot easier. Thanks for being here.
2. I can barely read.
You think I’m exaggerating, but it’s a lot closer to the truth than you might suspect. I read books slower than most seven-year-olds. No, really. Seven-year-olds. I cannot read more than ten words in a row out loud. I have had a half-dozen education professionals diagnose me with some variation of secondary dyslexia, none of who could offer much guidance besides “work at your own pace.” Somewhere along the line an English teacher noticed that even if I could not read quickly, I could write at the same rate as he spoke (shout out to Mr. Bolton!) and that was a talent worth exploring. This also means that, if I find my rhythm, I can think and speak and type at roughly the same rate. That makes writing large quantities of text (LIKE THIS, HELLO) comes easily for me. It’s like having a one-sided conversation. Sometimes, if I can’t work a problem out in my brain, I type it out in garbldygook until it smoothes itself out into manageable sentences. Many of which end up published here, but most of which will never see the light of day. If you are a linear thinker, that will make almost no sense to you. If you are a visual thinker, a light bulb probably just went off above your head. I don’t know why brains are constructed this way.
Please understand, just because I struggle to read doesn’t mean I avoid it. I’m just slow. Really slow. I’ll absorb every detail of a book. I can read a novel and remember the color of a third-tier character’s dress 10 years later. It’s the things that need to be read quickly give me a hard time. Road signs from a moving vehicle are rough (one of several reasons I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was nearly 30). Movie credits make my eyes spin. I’ll read someone’s tweet three times before commenting to make sure I understood the intention behind it. Fortunately, I don’t have this problem with my own words because, well, they are mine. I know what I mean. However, I do struggle with editing and proofreading my own words, which is not an unusual problem for writers in general, but it gets especially tricky when you throw my particular brand of inconvenience. Homonyms are a nightmare. Is it to, two, or too? I know all three are real words but which one is right one? <<< That there. I had to second guess if it was the “right one” or the “write one” because these are both real words but the context scrambles in my head and it takes a moment to remember my first grade teacher explaining the difference. Only then can I unscramble the two. <<<See that is two, but when I first typed it was to. I caught it though so that’s okay. I get the impression most people don’t have to do that after a few years of school. I make these mistakes all the time. Multiple times an hour, in fact. I thought that writing a thousand words a day would stop that from happening, but it’s not getting any better. Nor is my proofreading. When I did that reader survey, I was petrified that everyone would comment on my horrible typos, but to my amazement, only three or four people mentioned it, saying, “you need to start proofreading” which is sort of soul crushing because I haven’t STOPPED proofreading in 30 years. I’m just not good at it. Despite the fact that this is a revenue-generating site, I cannot afford the money to hire a copy editor or the time to wait on a friend or volunteer (I have tried both). At this point, I accept that mistakes happen to the best of us. I am no exception. Given the choice between publishing flawed work and not publishing at all, I choose to go forward as I am. Abundantly flawed. I’m continually amazed that people put up with it, but most of you do. So thanks for that.
3. I have been overweight my entire life.
I went to fat camp when I was 11 and it’s been downhill ever since. Except for a few years in the middle, when I starved myself and ate squares of toilet paper to muffle the sound of hunger pains, I have always been heavy. I’m also pretty tall, so I’m pretty accustomed to people describing me as “the big girl” in class, in business, on the street. I’m a big girl. I have gained and lost the same 80 pounds three times. The only times I came out victorious involved starvation, prescription pills, or emotional bankruptcy. You can imagine how anxious I am to return to these patterns. I will admit, I am an emotional eater. A sad eater. A celebratory eater. But 99% of the time, I’m a self-conscious eater who is following the same crap I learned in fat camp 25 years ago. After many years of self-loathing, I have come to accept that the only times I have ever come near “thin” was from unhealthy habits, and I will be a happier and healthier person if I can put self-acceptance before my vanity. I just gave up. And you know what? It feels surprisingly good. Yes, I would like to be thinner than I am now, and I am aware of the many steps it will take to get there, most of which are outlined in the dictionary-sized book on my nightstand right now, but it also feels strangely empowering to not give a crap about what others think of my size.
A couple of years ago an old friend sat me down to have a heart-to-heart about my weight gain (AS IF I HAD NOT NOTICED IT?) And although I know she meant well, it really annoyed me that she kept pestering about all her own personal diet and exercise habits followed by this thing over and over: “I just want you to be happy.” and “I’m just looking out for your happiness.” and “Don’t you want to be happy?” And that is when it dawned on me: she didn’t think anyone could be fat and happy. Her own happiness depended on her physical appearance and she automatically applied that same principal to me. To everyone. Sufficient to say, the rest of the conversation became about her and her needs before she would lay off me. And while I often still feel totally insecure about my looks, and I am acutely aware of how my physical well-being trickles into to every aspect of my life, I refuse to live by somebody else’s expectations. I’m me. Fat or thin or in between. Of all the many things I need to improve about myself, the size of my ass isn’t making the to-do list right now.
4. I am never not aware of my lack of children.
Most people reading this do not realize that I was stepmom/caretaker/mama bear for a little girl, from age 20 months to four and a half. The circumstances of how she came into my life or why she left are not mine to tell, but I can say with great confidence that saying goodbye nearly killed me. I rarely speak about this, even with my closest friends, because it usually involves me being told I should have never let myself get attached like that to child that wasn’t my own, which only feeds into my fear of inevitable loss (see navel gazing item #1).
Anyway. I’ll skip the gory details, but the deal is that her father and I haven’t been on speaking terms for years and that means I am no longer allowed in her life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. Sometimes I find myself stalking the Facebook photos of friends with kids of similar age so I can keep tabs of what she might be doing in school, or what music she might be listening to, or what clothes are in style for girls her age. It’s not healthy. When I’m around small children in real life, I often find myself withdrawn. It’s not that I’m disinterested, it’s just that I have a lot of emotional baggage in this department and it takes a lot of effort to keep it together and focus on the positive (read: “Ring-Ring. Hello. Mrs. Dalloway called. She wants her character arc back.”)
There was a time when the only thing in the world I wanted to be was a parent. Right now, it’s not even in my top ten. I’m 35 now, which is the age most women are expected to yield to the pounding of their biological clock, or at very least, make a choice about what path they want to take. I feel like that choice was made for me, which makes things a little easier, but those pangs of fear and heartbreak are never far beneath the surface.
And this is where it gets fun. To salt the wound, as part of running this “lifestyle” blog, I get a daily parade of inquiries about potential sponsorship opportunities, which usually lead to a marketing demographic questionnaire, which usually includes a question about how many children I have, which is usually when I close the box and go into a self-comforting spiral on Facebook. After four years of those of those questionnaires, I know full well, as soon as they ask me if I have kids, that means they won’t work with me because I’m not a mother (one of them flat out told me so). On the rare occasion a sponsor does want to work with me, I’m so grateful I feel like I owe them a limb or something. I mean, I get it. Running a craft blog and not having kids is an unusual combo. It’s not the marketing industry’s fault. That’s just a fact that I need to accept. And while I have never felt sorry for myself for not having children, I constantly feel jilted and envious of other bloggers. I know that making this dream financially succeed would come much faster if I had a kid in the picture. I worry that this resentment will get worse and eventually I’ll be 40, wildly bitter, and someone will say OH GOSH. I’M SO SORRY YOU NEVER HAD CHILDREN and then I’ll be like SHUT UP CLOWNHOLE. I WENT TO PARIS FOR THE WEEKEND AND DIDN’T HAVE TO HIRE A BABY SITTER. HOW WAS YOUR SATURDAY AT SPONGE BOB ON ICE?
So that is something to look forward to.
5.Most of the people I know in real life do not read this blog.
Years ago, I had worked with a guy who wrote a soccer blog who I eventually began avoiding because I didn’t want to schedule time to study his soccer blog before every conversation. “Did you see what I said about Brazil’s goalie getting smashed in the final round?” And then I’d have to pretend I cared. And I didn’t. I cannot describe the vastness of the crap I did not give about that soccer blog. Likewise, I get that not everyone is into crafts and decorating and copper pudding molds. Who am I to put that burden on them? So I never told my friends. I mentioned it here or there, and those people told a few people, but it’s never taken off as a conversation topic. On one hand, that’s totally fine because I don’t know every detail of my friend’s days and jobs and personal lives. On the other hand, it feels very strange because this blog has morphed into a lot of stuff that isn’t just about crafts and stuff. It’s complicated. It’s personal.
Currently, I have this giant group of people who know deeply personal things about me from reading them on my website but do not know me personally at all…then I have a smaller group of people who know me from real life but never know what I’m talking about online…and then there is this very small group, only about four people, that overlap in both camps. Those are three separate groups, and sometimes I fear I have a different persona for each. This bothers me. This feels phony. This makes me feel like I’m being phony to all three groups, and possibly myself. This is something I would like to fix.
I see that there are two primary options here;
1. I can try to change other people.
2. I can work on myself. Instead of trying to keep three personas for three groups of people, I can cut the crap and try to be as close to myself, my real self, as possible. To be authentic. To be honest. Not just with you guys but with myself.
That survey, that one I mentioned earlier, has been such an eye opener for me. I have learned many things, but most of all, I cannot please everyone. There will always be someone who dislikes me. If someone is going to dislike me I would rather it be for the real me, and not who I am pretending to be. And why was I even holding back on myself and trying to be someone else?
Again, here comes Mrs. Dalloway in her big-ass hat…
Look, if I have kept an arms-length distance on things in the past, it is because I was afraid of criticism and rejection. After that survey, I have been criticized and rejected, not in mass, but enough to know that it stings. It’s unpleasant. It brings out the ugliness in me. I can choose to wallow in that ugliness, or I can use it to do what I do best: survive, move on, and find the beauty in anything.
So that is me. That is what I know. In a minute I’m going to press publish and my knees might buckle from being so NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THIS. But. You know what? It already feels good to tear off this bandage. It feels liberating. And terrifying.
Thanks for listening all this time and allowing me a place to share my anxieties here. This was a really long post. I don’t expect most people to read it. Forgive my arrogance and please understand that I’m not looking for advice or a pity party or comments, I’m looking for public accountability. For myself. Most of the time I write these posts with you guys in mind, but today I write this for myself. Just writing this down has helped me already. If you want, I would encourage you to do the same when you are ready. It took me three years to muster up the courage but I’m so glad I did.
Thanks to Dee for tagging me on that 20 things instagram post while I was sitting in that parking lot, and thanks to Jess for setting off that series of posts back in 2012, as well as Grace, who recently put the worm back in my ear. Isn’t it strange when all the internet unknowingly conspires together to give you the kick in the pants that you need?
Okay. It’s time. I’m going to press PUBLISH.
Here we go…