Warrior Fairy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about a certain word lately.

This word sprouted up in my head a few weeks ago like a very determined little weed through the crack in a concrete driveway. It was like an ear worm song. But not a song. Just a word. And I could not get rid of it.

It kept growing, and appearing, and sprouting through the concrete in my head. And instead of pulling it out and chucking it aside, I watched it for a while. That word, the word that wouldn’t leave me alone, was like a weed with bright purple flowers. And I thought to myself, “Huh, it’s too pretty to be a weed. Maybe it’s a flower? I’m gonna google it.”

You see, this word is a big one for me.

Ready for it?

Dis-empowered.

That little word cropped up one day while I was standing on a pier looking out over the East River. Sea gulls were calling, joggers were running past, the waves were lapping on the shoreline as a ferry churned past, and I was truthfully thinking about my current writing project. I was thinking about the three miles I had to walk home. I was thinking about laundry. I was thinking of how beautiful the river was, and how much I hope this pleasant weather holds out against the inevitable north east winter.

And all of a sudden, there it was. That word.

Dis-empowered.

The definition of dis-empowered is, “to deprive of power, authority, or influence :  make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant.”

So, dis-empowerment is basically the opposite of this drawing Jane gave me.

“She’s a warrior fairy. See her sword? She’s a tough girl,” she explained.

I stared at this little fairy drawing and frowned and thought, “I want to be a warrior fairy. But I am so not a warrior fairy. I’m the worn-out-worn-down fairy.”

I was attempting, in a fairly inarticulate manner, to explain this to my sister at Thanksgiving. She nodded thoughtfully, silently, while I burbled around this concept of dis-empowerment, and words having such huge power in our lives, and trying to figure out who I am and what I really want, and how I really hate it when I walk the piers by the East River and see a big pile of feathers and I know a sea gull got attacked by someone’s fancy bi-breed dog (schnoodles, shnorkies, corpugbulls… it’s all weird to me).

And when I was done burbling, she said, “You don’t know what kind of eggs you like.”

I knew instantly what she was referring to, because in our house growing up we didn’t have cable, so we consumed movies from the local video store, and basically any film made from 1989 to 2005 we can identify and quote. I’m not bragging really, but I am saying that if there is a movie trivial pursuit game going on, we’re the gals you want on your team.

My sister was referring to the movie Runaway Bride. There’s a scene where Julia Robert’s character talks about how she doesn’t know what kind of eggs she likes. Her preferences and life have revolved around doing what her fiancees wanted and liked. If her partner liked scrambled eggs, then she liked scrambled eggs. If her partner liked poached eggs, she liked poached eggs. So she goes on a quest to find out what kind of eggs she likes. What kind of life she wants. What kind of person she is.

“You’re right!” I yelled excitedly at my sister.

Because ya’ll, I get that. Because I spent a huge chunk of life being the woman other people thought I should be. Being dis-empowered, even with the small things. Even with eggs. And it sucked.

I was not a warrior fairy. I was the dis-empowered, depressed, resentful, dying-inside fairy.

So here I am, at 36 years old, trying out metaphorical eggs. And hats. And clothes. And hobbies. And food. And opinions. Here I am, trying to scratch out my identity from underneath the rubble of other’s expectations and demands.

And it is glorious.

I’m at the center of the perfect storm for all this. I’m living in a city that thrives on not conforming. I’m blessed with the time to write and create things I’ve spent years waiting to do. I’m blessed with a husband and daughter who like and accept my un-curated real self.

And I feel like magic is happening.

Not Disney magic. Real life changing signs and universe-messages.

Because now I can know what kind of eggs I like (boiled, thank you very much). I know what kind of books I like (non-fiction, but give me all the fantasy books too). I know what kind of people I want to spend my time with (authentic, balls-to-the-wall honesty or nothing at all). I know what kind of mother I want to be, and what I want to teach Jane (confidence baby, confidence).

This week I threw out 2/3 of my closet because I was looking at my clothes the other day and thought, “I bought almost all of this to project an image of myself that’s not even real.” They looked like costumes to me. So out they went. They didn’t fit me anymore. Some literally, but a lot figuratively. They felt bad on my skin.

I simply could not wear them anymore.

And all of these things that have happened? All of this magic (because I think the word miracle has been so watered down that magic is a better substitute)? It’s the opposite of dis-empowered. It’s the beginning of my romance with a new word.

Empowered.

I used to roll my eyes at that word. That was a word for nutty women who were selfish. Those women were crack pots who ran off to join cults and do yoga on cliffs over an ocean. Those were loud and obnoxious people who talked over everyone else and believed their opinions were the best and brightest and only ones.

But you guys, I was wrong.

Because at the end of the day, being empowered is about being comfortable in your own skin.

Being empowered is being able to hold up your hand when someone is hurting you and saying, “You are hurting me. I am important. You should not hurt me.” And then not letting them talk you out of it.

Being empowered is not wearing clothes you don’t like.

Being empowered is not believing something that seems wrong to your soul, despite a church or loud person or anyone else insisting that you should silence your inner compass and believe it anyway.

Being empowered is knowing what kind of eggs you like, and never letting anyone else convince you otherwise.

Jane’s warrior fairy is empowered. She’s totally herself with her striped tutu and fancy eyelashes (clearly she’s a fan of cosmetics), while carrying her sword with confidence and ain’t nobody going to talk her out of that intimidating crown she’s wearing.

I’m so thankful that God led me to that word. I’m so thankful that all the hard stuff in my life led me to that pier, at that time, to learn that thing.

I firmly believe that once you are able to put your finger on that pulse, that one word, you are on your way to magic. Once you are able to name the word, to yourself, to the world, and out loud, you are on your way out of the hole and on to better things. Whether it’s dis-empowered, or depressed, or scarred, or scared, or confused, or betrayed… those words want us to find them. And know them. And understand them. And point to them, say them out loud, and begin to heal.

That’s when the clothes get thrown out.

That’s when we begin the journey to find ourselves.

That’s when we pick our favorite kind of eggs.

That’s when the magic happens.

That’s when we become real-life warrior fairies.

To Church or Not To Church

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I initially thought about setting up a trigger warning for this post, but then thought, “How in the world would that even read?”

Like: Trigger warning for anyone who ever choked on communion mid-service and nearly passed out trying to get out of the sanctuary before cough-exploding in the vestibule in a manner that caused Niagara-tears to gush from your eyes and caused a church-inappropriate-Alice-Cooper-raccoon-eye-look that incited gossip over whether or not you and your husband might be getting a divorce.

Or: Trigger warning for anyone who ever attended a non-denomination church where they began to strobe pink lighting during the prayer, and you thought “this is it, this is where I’m gonna get a seizure” so you sat down and put your head in your hands and the little old lady behind you patted your back and said, “Honey, do you need me to go forward with you? Cause we all sin.”

The thing is, I haven’t found a church “home” since getting a divorce. I’ve wandered about, first in Little Rock and then here in New York, visiting churches now and again. Sitting in the back pew and inspecting, hoping, waiting, and sometimes crying. It has felt like a quest to find home again, when “home” was burned to the ground in a pile of ashes. I have wandered and visited hoping to find something that might restore my faith to what it once was.

I could dive down that rabbit hole of the why’s and the what-happened, but, I won’t for many reasons, but mostly because I’m past all the bitter “can’t hardly swallow it down” feelings that accompanied the whole experience. But, it left me in a strange place once that bitterness passed. It left me in a place where I was afraid to go to church again.

Actually, it left me in a place where I didn’t WANT to go to church again.

The entire experience, a childhood spent in one of the strictest denominations in the southern Protestant community, college years spent at a conservative Christian university, my twenties spent attending and investing myself into a church community with deep conversations, Sundays in the pew, baby showers, hugs… I felt… had utterly let me down.

I felt that the safety nets I believed in had snapped. I began to believe that all the people who had proclaimed love for me over the years, and then turned their backs and gossiped, might have been lying. I believed that a life spent doing all the right things, spending Sundays in church, giving money to church, surrounding myself with Christian friends, doing all those things I was told would make me okay, make my life okay, had utterly failed me.

There are those that argue that when someone feels that church has failed them, they just don’t have the right kind of faith. They were either attending the wrong church, or they didn’t have a close enough relationship with God. And to that I say, uh, no.

Noooooo.

People who believe that have had the vast luxury of insulation.

Insulation from how truly awful and betraying Christians can be to each other. Insulation from bad things happening in their lives, so terrible, that on a good day they question whether God can hear them, and on a bad day they question whether he’s even real in the first place. Insulation in the form of self denial, because believing that churches can cause someone to lose faith, or hard times can cause someone to lose faith, are things too scary to think about.

Or perhaps, in the words of all southern Grandmas, no one ever taught them how to act.

But in the middle of my church and faith crisis, and after peering behind the curtain and catching the Wizard of Oz manipulating the controls, I found something different.

I found that all those years believing that without a church family, and without services and preachers you couldn’t know God, weren’t exactly true.

I found that in absence of a church, I turned to prayer time by the East River. I found that sitting next to the water, and watching the sea gulls perch and call, and breathing in the air, and telling God how I felt were some of the truest prayers of my life.

I found that in absence of a preacher, I turned to books and podcasts. I walked the streets of Queens and New York listening to wisdom in my ears.

I found that bedtime prayers and reading with Jane and our conversations about God and what happens when we die and my personal favorite “baptismos” (Jane informed me she was sorely not in favor of water going up her nose), are some of the best moments I’ve ever had with my daughter. I didn’t depend on a Sunday school class to teach her these things. I’ve had the privilege of teaching her those things.

I found that in absence of church friends, I had real family and friends who were ready to talk and email about God and what it all means. I had real friends and family who told me it would all be okay, who supported me, or just held my hand when they didn’t know what else to do.

I found that in absence of all those “church” things, I questioned more. I read more. I sought more. I grew more. My certainty of “all the things” grew less, and my ability to say “I don’t know” grew greater. I felt less need to preach and indoctrinate those I encountered, and more need to connect and know and just become a friend. I felt less smug, and far more humbled by the vast sea of things I have yet to know or encounter.

And I firmly believe that sometimes stepping away from the things we hold onto so tightly, so fearfully, is the only way to peel back the layers and discover what we’re actually doing with our lives. What we actually believe.

God. This one word is the greatest mystery of this life, and I am certain I will never figure it all out. I am certain I will never figure 1/10 of it out. I am certain that no matter whether I am churched or not churched, my relationship with God will grow and change.

And now I find myself dipping my toe back into the church water again. Tentatively attending. Tentatively shaking hands. Tentatively taking my daughter to Sunday School. Tentatively taking communion. I am doing this thing again, hoping that spiritual butterfly stitches hold together some of my deep wounds. Hoping that this time around will be different.

But.

But.

If it isn’t different, this time around will still be different. Because I believe the Lord is faithful to all of us, those who are sitting in pews, and to those who are huddled on a bench by the East River.

Afterwards

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So I may as well just get this out of the way, I’m very sad today. I feel great despair about the election.

Great. Huge. Bigly.

Too soon? Sorry.

 

I took Jane to the polls with me yesterday. I told her it was an important day, and that women haven’t always been able to vote, for a long time only men could.

She said, “That’s mean.”

“I agree,” I said. “But now we can vote. So we have to make sure to vote every time we can, and I’m going to take you with me to go voting.”

“Okay,” she said excitedly.

In fact, her level of excitement was a little bit disproportionate to the “going voting” thing, but I just assumed it was her natural zest for life.

But as we were standing in the gymnasium waiting to vote, her zest evaporated. She wasn’t her normal cheerful cooperate self. She was downright ticked off.

“Where is the water?” she demanded.

“What?” I asked.

“THE WATER,” she repeated, hands on her hips.

“Baby, I don’t understand,”I answered as I scrambled in my purse for some goldfish crackers (every mother’s solution to impending chaos).

“THE WATER FOR THE BOATING,” she yelled.

Apparently all her zest had been for boating. Not voting.

“Jane, we aren’t going boating. We are voting,” I explained as she paced around me, investigating the 1910 era gym for some sign of maritime opportunity.

She turned on me with very betrayed eyes.

“There’s no boats today?” she asked seriously.

I shook my head and held the bag of goldfish in front of me like an olive branch.

She eyed said goldfish, because clearly she’d been led to believe there would be boating, and those crackers were the only water creatures she would be encountering. And now the entire situation was dead to her.

She slowly reached out, took the bag from my hand, sighed, and said loudly, “I think I’m just done with all of this.”

An elderly woman behind us leaned around me and said, “Sweet girl, you just spoke for the whole nation.”

And it’s kind of true.

Now I have to figure out how to take the kid boating. In New York City. In November.

The Death of Curating

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It’s been a good break.

The truth is I didn’t know what to do here anymore. After ten years of blogging (most of which has been filed away into the “view privately” portion of this site), I wanted a fresh start. I could not figure out what that fresh start looked like, so I took a break.

Ya’ll. Breaks are good for the soul.

There once was a time when blogging about my daily life, five days a week, was very fulfilling. There was also a time when I slathered on about six different layers of makeup every morning without fail, obsessed about wearing the perfect outfits, spent hours figuring out the best way to photograph my newly painted kitchen, and did my very best to paint the sunniest picture possible over emotional landscapes that resembled Chernobyl.

I’m done with all that curating. I’d like to say I got wise, but in reality I just got so very, very tired.

Here’s the thing. Writing memoirs and blog posts is like presenting a curated version of yourself to the world. But it’s a hard tight rope to walk. Eventually that version of yourself can become so curated that it feels untrue. There came a point in my life a few years ago where I felt less like myself and more like a prop on a stage that I didn’t choose.

Curating an image isn’t a lie, it’s just skillful editing. And we all do that because who in the world wants to be the crazy lady who is asked “how are you doing” and responds by shouting “NOT GOOD I HAD TO PLUNGE THE TOILET THIS MORNING AND SOMETHING SPLASHED BACK IN MY EYE AND THEN I YELLED AT MY HUSBAND AND I ALSO FORGOT TO WEAR DEODORANT.” But since editing ourselves, or curating, is the socially responsible thing to do sometimes, you respond, “I’m doing okay, a little tired.”

But when I was blogging or writing my book there were gaping omissions like “Yes, I’m spending this entire weekend in flea markets and spray painting things because I love it, but also because I’m trying desperately to make my life look good on the outside even thought it resembles a shit heap of emotional carnage on the inside.”

You know. Uncomfortable truths like that.

And the truth is, life is a whole different bag of chips these days. I’m not so good at being a prop. I’m not so good at curating things (or myself) for others entertainment or happiness or comfort.

“Why, Liz,” you might say. “What a grump you’ve become.”

Maybe. But I’m a non-curated grump.

I’m not a prop in someone else’s life.

I’m me. And I’m surrounded by people who are okay with that.

I don’t think that any of this makes me unique. So many women get to this place after spending their 20’s and 30’s doing and being what other people expect and ignoring their own inner voices.  But we get older and we wonder what would happen if we did the jobs we really want. We get older and we say what we think instead of what someone wants to hear because the cost of their disapproval is less damaging than the cost to our souls when we shut up and sit down and stifle Edith (Archie Bunker fans, hello out there).

We get older and we want to know God, not a religion. We watch the years tick by and realize there’s not an unlimited number of them so we better get moving with that book, or that tattoo, or that therapy, or that hair style that looks a little crazy but requires no straightening what-so-ever because we’re losing YEARS OF OUR LIVES TRYING TO MAKE OUR HAIR INTO SOMETHING IT’S NOT (hello symbolism with a hammer).

The truth is, the reason I started blogging was because I was desperate for connection. I was lonely and stuck. I filled my life with writing, blogging, taking pictures, flea market rehabbing furniture, writing some more, and sharing it all here. And this miraculous thing happened. People commented. I made friends. And suddenly my life didn’t seem so empty and lonely any more. Being online, like this, making friends, being inspired, made me feel like I mattered. It also made me feel okay about all that was wrong and dank on the inside, because this curated blog-me had found approval.

In the past couple of years I’ve done a lot of growing. I changed. I didn’t feel like I needed blogging in the same way anymore.  I was no longer looking to other people to tell me I was okay. I no longer felt the need to post curated pictures of my life and curated posts about who I was as  means of reaching out into the world for approval or love.

But I do miss the connection. Connection is always good when you’re a writer who spends a good portion of your days by yourself. Having connection and a tribe is the thing you can’t really live without in life.

So I’m back. I haven’t missed the curating, but I have missed my online tribe. I’m still here. I want to write about writing and books. I want to write about what happens after we die, and if we have to go to church to be connected to God, and what it takes to be a truly creative person. JUST KIDDING. I’m not qualified to write about any of that (although every now and then I might try). But in all honesty you’ll probably have to be satisfied with a review on the latest romance book I inhaled while sitting on park bench while Jane drew chalk pictures of our family “if we all had three heads.” (true story)

But the carefully curated days are over. The days of walking on eggshells are over and I may or may not offend people with my true thoughts and my true self. But I’m okay with that. And I’m okay if you throw your authentic self at me and it’s a lot and it’s uncomfortable… because I would rather have real connections with people than have overly perfumed scented fake smoke blown up my skirt.

Not that I wear skirts anymore. I’m officially in the yoga pants camp.

But curated prettiness, in my house, on this blog, in my life, with my hair or face are not acceptable to me anymore. Seeking the authentic, and the real, no matter how ugly or offensive or discomforting… is the only way I know how to live now.

And for those of you who have so sweetly checked in and asked, I’m okay. I’m better than okay, I’m growing and changing and remembering who I want to be and become. It has been a spiritual transformation that I lay directly at the feet of the mighty and incomprehensible powerful being who lives in the sky.

In the words of the great George Harrision, “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright.”

 

The Good Stuff

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The living room smells of basil and green things climbing toward the big windows. I work on writing projects and take walks during the day. Jane and I buy fresh flowers on our walks home from school. I make dinner while Jane is chirping and singing with her dolls. Fayez comes home and she runs to give him a hug. He kisses my neck.

This is the good stuff.

Oh, Boogers

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Yesterday was less than fun. I went to get blood drawn. I went for a chest x-ray. Then I came back across town on a bus to pick Jane up at her school. My hair was frizzy. My chest was wheezy. My attitude was one of full blown mully-grubs.

And that’s when I noticed the man sitting across from me, in his wheelchair, carefully and slowly wiping boogers all over the bus wall beside him.

At first glance, I shuddered a bit. It’s not like I don’t have boogers. It’s not like I don’t pick them. Actually, I’m good at it. If there had been a booger-picking-go-pro option in college, I would have been a contender.

However.

I couldn’t help but respect the man just a tiny bit. His face said it all. Wrinkled. Lined. Frowning. The top of his head was wet from New York’s latest pop-up shower. The bus driver kept hitting pot holes as if it was his specific effort to throw each and every one of us out of our seats. And the man was just done. He was done with those boogers. He was done with the bus driver. He was done with the rain. He was done with the city. He was done with life.

I’d been sitting there dying to cough, and trying to hold it in so others wouldn’t think I was trying to real-life reenact the movie Outbreak, and here was this guy, so beyond done with his day, not giving one hoot if anyone was watching the evacuation of his nostril residents.

Now, I’m not saying all humanity should adopt that level of public-done-with-life-ness.

But there’s something to be said about having a bad day and just letting it all hang out. No fake smiles. No “just fine how are you’s.” Just a frown, a wrinkled forehead, and some good old soul searching while picking your nose. Or preferably, blowing it.

But you know what I mean.

I watched him for a moment and then coughed long and hard into my sleeve.

It felt so good.

The woman next to me moved out of her seat.

More room for me.

Score.

Thank You, Mr. Alexander Fleming.

      

And in yet another “If I’d Lived In the Pre-Antibiotic-Days I’d Be Dead By Now” chapter, I’ve been seriously grossing and coughing my way through spring.

It started as a cold, then it moved into a tuberculosis sounding cough (I’m not joking, they tested me), then it became hard to breath (they x-rayed me), then they didn’t know what the heck was wrong so they dosed me up with super antibiotics. I’m slowly crawling my way back toward the light, but can I just say thank you, Mr. Alexander Fleming.

The day I was the sickest I walked to the doctor, in the rain, with a cold wind at my back and thought, “This is not how I want to go out.” I know, I know. I get slightly melodramatic when I’m sick, but when you’ve been running a fever for over three weeks it does something to your brain. It vaults you into a state of high drama and Camille-like death-faux-scenes where all you want to do is use all the toilet paper to blow your nose and make a list of which sister gets what jewelry.

Not that I’ve ever done that.

But as I trudged along in my new red raincoat (I’ve never loved good rain gear so much), I walked down a street with beautiful tulips and street art, and in the distance the neighborhood church bells were ringing, and despite being a carrier of The Black Death, it was a really, really lovely morning. I took pictures, coughed, took more pictures, coughed, and then absconded from the pharmacy with a brand new prescription.

And now, I’m crab crawling my way back to health. I’m feeling less Joan-Crawford-angry-no-wire-hangers-death-march and moving more into the zone of Roseanne-in-her-robe-with-giant-cup-of-tea-and-online-celebrity-stalking (did anyone else know that Blake Lively’s sister played Teen Witch?).

Anywho. That’s my news. That’s the street art in my neighborhood. That’s all for now, folks.

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