Entries Tagged 'Deep thoughts' ↓

Mama Bear Friendships

Friendships — the real, legit kind — surprise me sometimes. I think I know how I will be or give or take from those friendships… but it’s not until things get real that I really do know.

My closest friend in the world has had some amazing blessings in her life. And she has also lived the worst kind of tragedy. And I have lived from afar for most of it. But still, there is this visceral reaction to her emotions and experiences that just doesn’t seem at all eased by distance. Weird.

Have you ever had a friend like that? The kind that you never see but you would jump in front of a train for without even knowing that you have?

Phone pain

On the phone, trying to stop a falling piano.

When tragedy struck for her, my reactions were unexpected but I suppose not surprising. I wanted to be exactly by her side as if there was a way I could absorb some of the pain, buffer it, distract it, just (oh God please) STOP it. I remember thinking that it felt like a piano was falling on her over and over. And while jumping in front of that piano wouldn’t protect her pain, there was a chance I could stop even the tiniest, slightest bit and share it and take some fraction of it on so that she wasn’t alone in that deep well of pain. I wanted to be right there, but I also wanted to take up the least amount of space. I didn’t want to be anything else she needed to care for or explain to or think about.

A protective, pain-sharing, invisible shield. With the very best intentions.

I don’t think I protected her one little bit. I do think I was in the way a little. But she graciously allowed me in that space. There was enough piano pain for everyone, you know.

And now, a very wonderful blessing has arrived into her life. Oh, you guys, she is the best, sweetest kind of blessing. 8 lbs, 12 ounces of joy with a helping of her mama’s dimples.

I spent a lot of time Facetiming my friend tonight, only just barely home from the hospital.

Have you had baby? If so, do you remember those first days when your milk comes in and all hell is breaking lose in your body, things no one can see but… WHOA… shit is getting real, you know? And still, everyone wants to celebrate that wee one, and be there, and “help.”

Once again, she graciously let me in. And I was with her when she really just needed alone time. And a handful of Motrin and, sweet mother of God, some sleep.

It’s funny, now that so much good is happening, I almost feel like I want to step back (which is not too hard to do this far away). Again, I am having unexpected but not surprising reactions to this GOOD. I feel like I want to leave her in it. I want to make space for as much joy as possible to come rushing in and wrap her all up. I don’t want to take ANY of it for me. I don’t want to step in front of it or stop it or experience it for her. SHE GETS IT ALL. She deserves it all.

But she gave me some, still. I watched her oldest hold her youngest in the middle of a peaceful cloud of pillows, while people fussed beyond her closed door in the kitchen. What a gift.

Of course, when your favorite loved ones experience very very good things and very very bad things, I think we ALL go “mama bear” for a little while. Something deep down bubbles to the top and acts out on love and instinct, rather than acting on “what is done.” Not that I am really doing anything a million miles away.

And not that I am acting on those feelings entirely, either. Because my feelings are telling me to throw everything to the wind and get on a plane.

But there is GOOD right now, you know? And it’s hers. And her having that good brings me peace and less anxiety about jumping on a plane. I’ll see them all eventually but… everything is (oh God, thank you) OK.

Anyway, I don’t have moments like this often. I thought “mama bear” reactions were strictly for children and husbands and parents and siblings. But friends like these are chosen family and she is so very, VERY much a part of mine.

And I am so very grateful that my closest and dear are all very GOOD right now.

All is well.

And there are dimples out there, people. DIMPLES.

Cat Lives

I woke up this morning with a to-do list a mile long and a sick cat. She was having… bathroom issues. (Nope, I won’t go into detail, you’re welcome.)

And then we couldn’t find the cat carrier. And I didn’t get out the door as early as I wanted to. And then there was a huge bird poop on my windsheild that took forever to get off and totally grossed me out. And then the Starbucks carline was so long it made a “Y” with cars trying to push their way in and then I realized my contacts were drying my eyes out and I probably should have changed them. And then work got more “worky” and while I had a half-day today, that to-do list and various technical issues made all of us there feel more “Monday” than “Friday.”

But, oh yeah, my cat was still sick. I called and got an appointment for 2:30pm.

So much for grabbing the kids and heading to the beach, which had been my original plan.

Yes, my day was filled with “first world problems” — that stuff you feel guilty getting irritated by but let it get to you anyway and storm around and secretly feel sorry for yourself. Could that Starbucks line be ANY longer? Did that bird poop have to smear like that? My life is awful.

Heh.

So I gathered the kids after work and told them we were “going on an adventure to the vet!!! Oooooh.” They bought it, they were excited. Yay, we get to stuff the cat into a carrier and poke our fingers at her while she howls all the way there. Best day ever.

(Cue more feeling sorry for myself.)

My cat got poked and prodded. And then, when they took her in the back, that 16 year old granny-cat threw a hissy fit and King Fu chopped and hissed and lunged at anyone until they finally sedated her. I secretly cheered her on. That will be another $100.

It was a couple hours later, after the kids had enjoyed Frosties at the Wendy’s next door and then met about 10 different dogs (the vet may actually be better than a petting zoo), that I got my wake-up call.

The doctor talked to me about my cat. She is sick. And this medicine may work. But it may not. And it may be something bad. And there is more potential testing. Oh and today’s visit is about half a paycheck, thank you very much. But your cat needs to be treated so… what are you going to do?

He then gently said the dreaded, “Let’s see how this goes but we may need to have a conversation about testing and what it means for a 16 year old cat.”

I would trade a hundred “Y” shaped lines at Stabucks for conversations like those and dropping money like that.

Because I feel horrible about all of it. Yes, that’s my responsibility as a pet owner. But that money!! But what kind of person AM I to think about money when her life depends on this care?

When, as a pet owner, do you decide that your animal’s life is not worth the cost? When are the treatments and the money not going to give her a better quality of life? When do you arrive at that point? What is humane? When I am being selfish, when am I being reasonable? What is RIGHT?

That is an answer I have to arrive at.

With humans, you treat them until there is no treating left. No question, who cares what it costs, you do it. Not with pets. There comes a point when they won’t get better and cost matters and it’s up to you to “do the right thing” for both your family AND that animal.

I don’t like having to make decisions about money and health and whether a family member (because my animals always are family members) lives or dies.

Nope. I don’t like it one bit.

My cat and I go way back, after all. My husband and I picked her up in a fit of nesting after we first moved in together in… wait for it… 1997.

Times goes by and our cat is aging and decisions need to be made.

It’s funny how perspective kicks you in the ass and tells you to stop obsessing over to-do lists and Starbucks. It’s funny how your soul checks itself when it considers the very real possibility of choosing to end a life.

Compared to your children, it’s just a cat. It’s more than a cat, it’s family. Round and round I go.

Let’s hope these antibiotics work so I can go back to worrying about the little stuff.

(What a luxury to worry about the little stuff!)

For now.

16 Years.

The Priviledge of 40

I am turning 40.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

“Do not regret growing older. It is a priviledge denied by many.”

I’m on Pinterest. I see that quote all the time. And I agree with it 100%. But still, you guys. I’m staring at 40.

In the months leading up to this, I’ve been very resigned about it. It’s no big deal. Just an age. But now… IT’S HERE. You know as well as I do that all the “40th birthday” decorations in the Party Store involve being over a particular hill and gravestones and senior-related things. It’s totally dumb and I’m far from gravestones. But this birthday has a certain reputation still. So, before I freak out unnecesarily, it’s time to write myself a list of why 40 is juuuust fine. No biggee.

1. I am very much alive and well. My ticker runs well enough, my mammograms have been clear, all systems are status quo and I am actually somewhat in shape (ish). (Don’t count the chips and wine and cookies and shit I enjoy daily from time to time.) I count my lucky stars for all of this.

2. I have been bountiful. I’m not saying I’m some supah-stah and I certainly haven’t found a cure for cancer and I’m not saving starving children around the world. But… I have produced two children. From my body. And I they have been fed food everyday and they are potty-trained and can read books. Excuse me while I go take my victory lap. That stuff is BIG.

3. I am a productive member of society. Again, I know I am not shooting out the lights as some big-wig exec, nor is my name actually IN lights, but I am in the process of rebuilding my career after 8 years at home, I am doing something I enjoy and I am providing for my family the best way I know how. Boom.

4. I know more stuff. At 23, I had no idea. Yes, I was college educated and full of self-indulgent, super woman piss and vinegar. I thought I knew stuff. Kind of. But deep down I was very insecure and had no idea about bills and life and death and talking to idoits who are trying to sell you a load of crap. A lot of things that used to freak me out just don’t anymore. I LIKE not freaking out and knowing how things work.

5. I know my future. Well, for the most part. Back to my early 20s again, that was a time of all sorts of stress and fear of the unknown. What am I doing with my life? Where should I live? Shouldn’t I get married soon? When should I buy a house? How could I ever afford to buy a house? When do I have kids because I have to have kids and I am 7 years from 30 which is ANCIENT and I need to plan because I have to have kids OH MY GOD I want to have kids and I don’t know when I’m going to have kids!!! I don’t have to deal with ANY of that crap any more. I have been blessed with a great partner and kids and a house and it’s all good. (Phewphewphewphewphewphewphewphewphew. Phew.)

6. It’s a little bit, sort’ve my turn. I spent the majority of my 30s tending to my children. No complaints at all, it’s what I spent my 20s freaking out about working towards. But, now they can kind of self-sustain long enough that I can sleep in a bit on the weekends or write this blog post. I don’t expect that they will get “easier” per se. (Wait a second. Cue that 20s freak out over their upcoming teens years. And let me rethink my “I know stuff” swagger above because I’m not sure what I will do when they sneak my car keys and crash the car and say mean things and decide they don’t want to go to college. I don’t know anything about THAT stuff. At all.) But I do think there is more room for me to have a moment from time to time. Maybe with my husband. Maybe I can be a wee bit more selfish in my 40s. Maybe.

7. I waste my time less. Let’s get back to those Pinterest quote posts.

“The trouble is, we think we have time.”

Time runs out. Our time is not forever. This is an important thing to know. And it’s something I embrace and know for a fact (my mother died 23 years after she turned 40). So I try very hard not to waste my time or energy on things that just don’t matter. Or on people that suck the life right out of you. Or worry over things I can’t change. Or really care about drama. No time people. Onward.

8. The glass really is half full. No, really. People, there is a lot of stuff left to do. There is still so much to see. It’s not over! I can practically hear all of my friends and family over 40 shaking their heads and telling me this is no big deal. Get ON with living. There is so much left to go. Stop fixating on this number. It’s time to put my big girl panties on, get out of the junior section in life and proudly own the years and experience I have aquired. I lived 40 years and I did it pretty well, right?

So. What’s next?

Too Nice

Do you think being too nice is a sign of weakness?

I wonder about this often.

I have been accused of being too nice. There could be worse things, of course. And I don’t have any beef with being nice. If folks think that I am, well, that’s something to be proud of, right?

Whatever I am, I am that way and rarely succeed at being something I am not. So there it is, right on my sleeve for the world to see. Nice, I guess.

But, do you think nice is taken seriously? Can nice people be effective ball-busters, respected leaders or rising stars? I wonder.

(Not that I really aim to be some flashy rising star, but it helps make my point so let’s go with it.)

I think about this a lot.

When I think of leaders, I think of women like Hillary Clinton. Did you see her testify before the Senate? Well, I saw the comments afterwards. This woman is perceived as a tough bitch. Hands down. And most women I have ever seen at the helm of anything major, well, they are perceived as tough. And as bitches. And, for that, they make no apologies. Nor should they.

Photo credit: Mashable

But how many “nice” women do you see in similar positions?

It’s an old argument. And we could go on for days about how women HAVE to be tougher or perceived as less feminine to get ahead. And I don’t disagree. I’m just not sure where that leaves me.

Ms. “Nice Guy”.

My office mates joke that I need asshole training. I don’t disagree with that, either. It cracks me up when they say that because I am so unable to be a really believable asshole. Being an asshole, for the most part, just isn’t in my make-up.

But is being nice… weak?

There is part of me that hates to see folks unhappy. Groan, right? Who the hell needs a people-pleaser around to get anything done effectively. Honestly. But it’s not as simple as that. Well, maybe when I was younger it was. But now it’s more about taking the time to consider all sides. And, you know what, I don’t think my way is always the right way. AND I think that feelings matter. I do. Respecting the people around you is cool. I am also OK with doing some grunt work and sparing someone else from doing it.

…Eh. Commendable. But weak.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not THAT nice. I say mean things everyday. I could be a hell of a lot nicer to my husband most mornings. There are too many people to list that would get a phone call from me… if I were nicer and far more thoughtful.

Maybe I pick and choose my nice. For instance, if I were to say I was a good leader at anything, I think it’s in the mom department. (If I do say so myself. *shoulder-dust*) I’m nice to my kids. I’m nice until they push it. Then I stop the nice immediately and get serious. We can go from a loud and lively game of Battleship to game-over and time outs for everyone if the kids get into it. And once it’s over and they have earned another round, I’m back and willing to play.

But, you see, I am confident as a mom. It’s the rest of it that I need to gain traction on and trust that my instincts are right, even if they are nice.

I want to play by my rules, really. I don’t want to push another down to get where I want to go. I don’t want to insist that I deserve better than anyone else. I would rather lift those around me up, stand as an example and cheer loudly for the good guys.

(Oh lordy, in an ideal world. Maybe I’m not that nice. I need to work on all of this more.)

Anyway, these are things people like me think about. At almost 40 and looking back at what I’ve really done with what I have and giving some real consideration to my strengths and weaknesses. With Etta James on Pandora and my stretchiest PJ pants no chocolate in the house.

But don’t you dare call me hormonal. Whatever “nice” I have claimed so sweetly will go south fast.

(And if you love me, and know me well, you can stop laughing at that threat, too. I’m trying here.)

A Birthday Ghost Story

So, I just had a birthday. And I’ve got a story to share about it. It was kind of a “light-bulb” moment with a slight supernatural twist. Maybe. (You be the judge.) But it was an important moment and birthday gift, to be sure.

Rewind to a few mornings ago, on the day of my birthday. I was sitting in my car and I was feeling pretty great. The kids had been dropped off at camp, and I was about to pick up my husband for a day alone together. (I know! THAT’S a gift right there!) I was alive and healthy and my family was healthy. All was well.

So, as I was driving along and kind of settling into the groove of my day, I was suddenly caught entirely off guard. On the 80′s station I was listening to (…yeah, yeah, it was my 39th birthday, so they’re relevant tunes for me…), a Stevie Wonder song came on. NOT one of his best, but one my mother used to love.

And it was as if I could hear her say right there next to me, “Oh, I’ve always loved this song.” So, there I was, sitting at a stoplight and hearing the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You”  for the first time in many, many years. Of all the songs… really…

The intersection I was sitting at was significant, too. It was there when I got a call on my cell from my mom 3 years prior to wish me happy birthday. I remember that detail because I have replayed so many of our interactions during those weeks in July.

About two weeks after that particular birthday, she passed away.

So, if you know me, you know what I thought about that particular song playing on my birthday at that very intersection.

It was like she was in the car with me. Truly.

And, yeah, I was all kinds of out-of-the-blue emotional. I truly went from 100%, totally FINE and jazzed about having a day for me to just chill out and be grateful for my life… to a muddled, weepy mess at a traffic light.

It’s fine, though. That’s how loss goes. Mourning happens out of the blue sometimes. And, after all this time, I’m actually grateful for it because it means she is present in my heart and she is still so very real in many ways.

Anyway, I learned an important lesson in that quick moment. Maybe some of you have realized this before but it took me 39 years and a bad Stevie Wonder song to figure it out…

Your birthday is not your own. It is your mother’s day, too.

Sure, sure, you came into the world that day. Good for you. Toss the confetti. Being alive is certainly a very good thing. But I can bet you all the coins lost deep in my couch cushions that your mother cares more about your birthday–a day she worked so, so damn hard to get you out of her body and breathing and OK–than she does about her own birthday.

I remember the first birthday I had after my first son was born. It felt so stupidly insignificant. THIS child and HIS life was significant. My job was to live for him now, birthday-shmirthday, behold the golden, blessed child!

(Well, ok, so that’s a “new mom” thing. You get all overwhelmed by that new kid, you think you don’t really matter… but you do, of course. Balance. Love yourself, then love another and all that poppycock… I get it. Now.)

Anyway, I may not have cared about my birthday in the weeks after my son was born but I will tell you who did… my mother. My guess is that, all those years ago, she probably didn’t express it very well. I don’t know how that call went that day, but we had a lifetime of issues we never really made peace with. It’s likely that we may have only talked briefly.

It doesn’t matter. I know she was was thinking of me on that day and all the birthday before and after that. Whatever the baggage, mothers think about their children on their children’s birthdays. Sometimes it’s about the one thing they are even sure of: “I gave birth to someone special on this very day.”

I get it.

Anyway, I had a great birthday. 39, woot!

(And many thanks to my mom for checking in that morning, too.)

 

Navel Gazing About Being Owed Nothing

“the world owes me nothing
and we owe each other the world.”

This post has been sitting in my head awhile with these Ani lyrics satelliting around the unorganized mess of it all.

I have been thinking a lot about what we deserve and what we don’t. I’ve been thinking about entitlement and some assumption that we are owed something because, well, we exist, dammit. And because I breathe this abundant air and take up this comfortable space, I shall get what I need when I need it. No questions asked.

But I wonder how much of this is me just getting old and smacking my gums about “kids today.” Because “kids today” should appreciate what they have and not complain about it or expect twice as much more.

Of course, maybe it is our fault. We have created a quick-fix culture where diseases are diagnosed by Dr. Google, soothing British voices direct us where to drive until they must recalculate, and college kids can download class notes on the board with one push of a button. Yawn. Of course they can.

I don’t think life is easier, however. Not now. Not when the unemployment rate is over 9% of the population. (It was only 5% when I graduated college in 1997. True story.) I think we are up against challenges our country hasn’t experienced in decades.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe since we get so much less now, we have to fight and scrap for whatever we have. Own it before you actually do, otherwise it’s someone else’s. You snooze, you lose.

“and i wonder if everything i do
i do instead
of something i want to do more.”

And then there’s that. I wonder how often I sell myself short and hardly demand more. I own a lot of guilt and feel like I should apologize for, well, everything. And I think I am too nice. And someone just looked at me funny, so I obviously need to apologize AGAIN for something I’m not sure I even did but seeing them smile and feel better makes me feel like I didn’t “F” something up at least. (What a hero I am.)

So, maybe it’s my fault.

*guilt*

But I’m a wildly optimistic person and maybe I need to own the value in that more. If the sky is falling, I think that maybe whatever is falling out of it could be useful. And who needed it in the sky ANYWAY. Yay for falling things everywhere!

I like to be happy. It’s in my nature to be happy. NOT a grumpy, stooped over, gum smacking a-hole who wishes folks would care a whole lot less about themselves. Whatever. Really, life is so good after all. And maybe if I simply cut the guilt, get my priorities in order, and let the light shine through — there’s hope that someone else might get it together too.

“i do it for the joy it brings
because i’m a joyful girl
because the world owes me nothing
and we owe each other the world
i do it because it’s the least i can do
i do it because i learned it from you
i do it just because i want to
because I want to”

Two Years

Somehow it has been two years.

So I wait. For something to hit. And it doesn’t. Or, at least, it hasn’t yet. And maybe it finally just won’t.

Of course something hit last year. Something hit her house, actually. I had asked for a sign. I got one.

But this year, things feel quiet. Two years is a long time. Two years is nothing at all. It doesn’t hurt less, but I’m just very used to having her death right there besides me. This is now normal.

Sometimes, I swear she is standing behind me at work or in the hallway at home, just around the corner. Don’t laugh. I know I have an active imagination, she always said I did. But there is something in the corner of my eye, a sound. I turn, it’s nothing. Shrug. Who knows.

Sometimes, I can hear her voice so exactly in my head that she may as well be speaking right to me. I hear her and I laugh and I think, “Ok, that’s exactly what you would say about that.” I suppose I know her very well. I suppose you can think up any person’s response to an issue if you think hard enough about it. But I suppose it’s a way to keep her here.

Sometimes, she is in my dreams. Maybe 20 years younger than she was when she passed. She is very calm and confident and into some busy project or another. Very much the “mom in charge” that I remember when she was well and strong. Sometimes, in my dreams, I tell her I am so relieved she IS alive and all is well. What a bad dream that must have been. She looks at me like I’m being dramatic again. That OF COURSE she’s fine. She doesn’t offer comfort or affection but her steady “Oh Caroline” is reassuring. I’m relieved and calmed and not upset any longer. Sometimes, I dream that she’s here and she never left, there was never any death at all. And she’s still annoying me as much as she ever was.

Whether my imagination is hard at work filling in this impossible void left in my world, or whether there is something more to it, she isn’t really gone for me. And I am getting used to having her there in a very different way. It’s never enough, but is your mother ever there for you enough, really?

I love this picture of my mother. This is how she was before she passed. Hardly glam, always a bit rumpled, but also trying to trap you in a picture that she will never develop or ever look at again. Her way of saying, “I really like being around you but I don’t know how to say that so I am going to harass you until you all huddle together and, strain a smile and say ‘cheese’”.

Her affection was never traditional so why should I expect anything otherwise in her death.

She called me “Carolyn” more often than she called me “Caroline”. She blamed it on her learning disability. She also called me “Carolvin” — a combo of my brother’s name and mine. She also called me “Boopie” and “Caroley” and (this one was a real favorite of mine, as you can imagine) “Spaceshot”. Because I tuned her out a lot.

I tune her out. Maybe still. Or maybe not.

Just trying to piece together our connection as I did in life. And, this year, there seems to be some peace, some resignation, in that.

I hope you have peace, Mom. More than anything else, that’s what I hope for you.

The Couple

Every morning, on my way to work, I see this couple. It’s always around the same time, about 7:50am or so. They are an older couple, but not old. I assume they are retired. And they go for a walk together every single morning. But what caught my eye about these two was their earphones. They each wear their own pair. I imagine each set to their own preferred music station or talk show. They aren’t speaking. They are just walking together, with their head phones on, at the same time, everyday, while the rest of us whiz by with children and cups of coffee and phones to our ears and a million things to do on our agendas.

(Here is a picture I took of them with my phone the other day. It’s not great, but you get the idea…)

So what is it about this couple?

Well. They seem to me like some very obvious, probably overly romantic, analogy on marriage.

I think young couples, newly married or recently moved in, have these notions about how they should be. How they have to share every little thing. And when your loved one doesn’t like that song as much as you did, when your partner doesn’t find that TV show, that style of home, that idea of a weekend away as fantastic as you do… you question.

Are we meant to be after all? How can we be this different?

I am ten years into my marriage right now. And this couple seems to stand for everything I understand about relationships. And here’s where the far too obvious analogy comes in.

Forgive me if I seem kind of Yoda about this. Just take it for what it’s worth.

As long as you are both still walking down the same road together… as long as you both WANT to be walking down the same road together… as long as you make sure to keep walking down the same road together, every single day… as long as you keep going in that same direction, together, with positive momentum, you can each listen to any old damn radio station you want.

Same path, but room to BE.

Because same path doesn’t mean same everything else.

However same path means: hey that’s COOL she likes to listen to that other radio show. Respect for the other radio show even if you would never, ever listen to it. And if one chooses to take a different direction than you would prefer, let it go, stay with them, don’t keep score, at least you are still on that same path. And if he isn’t all that chatty while you’re on the path, chill out, he doesn’t feel like talking, but he’s still choosing to BE on that same path with you every single fracking morning.

Same path, different people.

Because you don’t want to lose who you are. You don’t want them to lose who they are. But you have to make it a priority to move forward together.

I told you this was practically cartoon frying pan over the head obvious.

But I would add one more thing about this whole same path, different radio station analogy. At the end of the day, take off your headphones, and check in with each other. Ask about the other person’s radio show. Find out if their favorite song came on. Listen. Really really try to care about the song, even if you kind of don’t. Focus on the give, not the take.

So. Ready to do this?

Because, you know: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Morningside Yoda out.

BlogHer (Part two): Questions and Answers

I promised a second BlogHer post. You know the one where I tell all of you what I learned there? So I think I’ll start by sharing the questions that I had rattling around in my brain when I arrived. Not that there are clean answers to anything. But understanding the question is the only way to figure out an answer, right?

So here we go.

  • What am I doing here?
  • Can I really justify being at this fancy shmancy blogging conference?
  • Is blogging just a hobby or a real professional gig?
  • Can bloggers who write (rather than strictly review) succeed as writers? And I mean as real, legitimate writers?
  • How are bloggers really perceived by the outside world? Are they considered writers? Or as people who just write their opinions about products and what their kid just did in his pants?
  • How much skill is involved to succeed as a writer? Or is it more about persistence? Or luck? Or perception?
  • How much change can a blogger affect by writing? Is writing blog posts about something you feel passionate about enough? Or should you practice what you write more often, so to speak.
  • Do companies ever want to engage with bloggers because of their writing? Or do they want us for our readership? Or both?
  • How much do bloggers need to brand themselves? Is branding yourself the only way to create a perception that you are kind of a big deal? Does the writing ever speak for itself?
  • Does blogging spoil a writer? Is posting everything she thinks a bad idea (rather than work on an idea, expand on it, edit it, perfect it and submit it to something real)?
  • If a blog post falls in the forest, does it make any noise if no one is there to hear it? In other words, is blogging ultimately about readership and outreach?
  • Can bloggers succeed without being their own PR and legal rep? Or will we all be taken advantage of and wind up blogging for pennies in dingy basements never to see the light of a real, true, “I can pay my bills now” paycheck?
  • Does blogging ever give you enough return on your investment? Is it worth all of the hard work?
  • Which leads me back to my first question: what am I doing here?

BlogHer had every assortment of panel to sit in on and learn from. And so many amazing people were crammed into those rooms to attempt to answer some of these questions. Conversations were had in hallways, over meals at outdoor cafes, while recharging laptops, rumbling through town in taxis, up in hotel rooms sprawled out on beds and on top of cheeseburger shaped furniture.

Were my questions answered?

Um. Well. Here are the conclusions I’ve come to. For what they’re worth.

  • Blogging can be just a hobby. But it can definitely work to your advantage in your profession, whatever that might be. It’s up to you.
  • No one will hand you a writing career on a silver platter, no matter how many posts a week you crank out.
  • Blogging for and about stuff is most certainly not the same as blogging for the sake of writing. But both are blogging. And that’s ok.
  • Yes, perception (yours, your reader’s, the non blogging world’s) absolutely matters.
  • Writers get better by writing. So keep writing. Where ever, whenever. Writers also get better by reading so don’t forget to read and connect with other writers.
  • Companies really really like your readership. But. They might like the magic you write to make that readership come to you in the first place too. And they hope you can spin a spell about their stuff with your words. That is valuable. If you want it to be.
  • The number of comments or size of your readership is most certainly not an accurate reflection on the quality of your writing. At least that’s what they keep telling me.
  • Bloggers CAN affect change just by writing. They really, truly, without a doubt can. (And I adore all the women who tackled me to say so after I asked that question at a panel.)
  • Decide what you want from blogging. Then decide if pushing your own “brand” will then get you what you want. Bloggers blog for many different reasons so how you approach blogging does not need to be the same.
  • People should read your posts and hear your voice. Because blogging is not just about your writing but most importantly about conversations, connecting and reaching out to an important community.
  • Yes blogging is worth it for the friendship, the growth, the self-evaluation, the support, for so so much we just can’t put a price tag on. But is it worth it for the money? Um. No.
  • Yes writers can make money writing. Or so I hear.

So what am I doing here?

My blog is my home. It is my most comfy chair, with my most comfy blanket thrown over top, with a cup of cocoa, a really good movie on and my cat curled at my feet. I love it here. I’m not going anywhere. It is here where I will practice this concept of “writing” – I’ll kick it around, try it on, spin it in front of a mirror and see how it looks.

As for writing as a profession, I’ll just keep plugging away at other venues and see where it takes me – one itty bitty paycheck at a time.

So was being at BlogHer worth it? Yes, I think so. It’s breath-taking to be part of something so incredible with such a powerful voice. And I adored seeing all of my friends. It was as if my twitter stream had come to life – all of those avatars had grown legs and were passing me left and right in the hallway. It was kind of great. Plus I think justifying anything empowering for me – when I give myself so little most of the time – is totally ok.

Sure, I still kind of struggle with my blogging identity. But that’s ok too. Because the minute I get too comfortable I won’t challenge myself, I won’t grow, I won’t get better at any of it.

So, one more time, what am I doing here?

I writing. And connecting. It’s as simple as that.

The First Tomato

I don’t claim to be much of a gardener. But by no means should that imply that I don’t love to garden. I’m not sure how it happened actually. I fought it for years, but it’s joy lay deep below, patient and waiting.

As a child, my mother had a garden plot a few blocks from our home. She piled my brother, myself and her garden tools into her station wagon and hauled us all over there. We didn’t particularly like going. We were bored. I would wander down the mulched paths in between stringed off gardens boasting lovely heads of lettuce, squash and snap peas lost in whichever fantasy I had currently replaying in my mind. My mother would call me back, and could I bring the wheel barrow over while I’m at it.

I remember the year she had grown so many tomatoes. Heaps and heaps of them. She was given a book about “Too Many Tomatoes” and set to canning. I remember the smell of vine ripened tomatoes and then stewing tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes. There were just so many of them which she found very amusing and clucked on about daily. *Shrug* I was six. What did all of those tomatoes really matter.

When I finally moved into my first apartment with a little bit of land, I never expected to consider gardening. But as the cold months finally passed and green buds piqued the trees, something unfurled within. As if some gene which I had no control over had finally matured itself and pushed through. Maybe I should go pick up a few bulbs? Maybe a trowel. Maybe some better soil.

But I am missing the skill portion of this gardening gene. And so my first garden was a catastrophe. Bulbs had been placed too close together, enormous plants grew on too small a plot of land and then one flower took over like a weed and spread everywhere. Things were leaning, nothing matched, hopeful flowers were strangled and started dying. I forgot to water. What’s the difference between and annual and a perennial, I had no idea.

Years have passed and I have my own home now. Usually I tend to my small garden of children so I spend less time heeding my temptation to grow much outside. But I try every few months to make an effort with my garden. It is a Florida garden however with extreme heat and humidity and then occasional damaging freezes. We have horrid sandy topsoil which is regularly overturned and dug through by a local armadillo. And then there are hoards of fire ants ready to strike any flip-flopped foot that happens to misstep. I don’t know the names of what grows here so growing any of it is some version of garden Russian roulette. But I dig a hole, plant one in there and certainly try. Sure, only about 50% of what I have put in has had lived on with much success, but I try.

Today I put in sod. Last year our backyard was bulldozed suffered at the hand of a wild boar and five of her babies. The weeds whooped and hollered as they crowded in and took over. But today my husband and I trucked in slab after slab of sod and threw together a patch work of grass which we hope will make its mark and regain the upper hand. As we stood there coated in dirt and sweat, watering and stomping at the ground, I felt good. The dirt felt good. The soil and water and all of it combined in a muddy green grassy mass smelled divine. I am growing something.

A few weeks ago, I tentatively planted a tomato plant in a pot on my back porch. Because, you guessed it, I like tomatoes now. I adore them. I wish I could ask my mother how she did it but I would bet the care and the organic mulch and the specific zone she lived in had everything to do with it. Nevertheless, I am trying it. And so now I go out onto my porch everyday and stare at my plant. Would you believe one of those lovely papery tomato flowers bestowed a small gift the other day? Yes, a small green tomato has shown itself. I hardly have too many tomatoes – but I have one. One and maybe another as I tentatively water it’s soil and will the next papery flower to produce a friend.

There is a magic in growing. A small, dry seed can become something real and green, stalked and hardy. Soil and all of it’s rich substance anchors the potential of food and beauty and shade. Water. Have you ever seen what a good soaking rain will do to a garden? It all stretches to the sky and reaches and reaches. It greens and buds and flowers and creates fruit and color and hope.

Clearly, there is also therapy in gardening and growing. We lose ourselves, find our thoughts and enjoy this quiet peace while tending and tending and tending until it exhausts us. We place our attention on something which doesn’t take anything away. We find creativity in growth and life while reigning in and respecting all the possibilities of the natural world.

It is certainly no coincidence. I have snuck back into my garden because it offers a careful promise of life and hope. A promise I tend to, hoping my love of gardening which was passed on to me might actually heal me.

Its a phenomenon to be sure.

And again, it’s not one I claim to have much of a handle on. Don’t expect bright swaying trellises of bougainvillea and enormous bushels of Birds of Paradise or hearty fruit trees weighed down with orange treasures or even a lawn that grows one type of grass (as much as I lust for all of this). But you might expect a small tray of sunflowers poking their way up on the sunny side of the house. Or one clump of Bird of Paradise make a respectable run for it in the front yard. And a fairly successful patch of petunias keeping my mailbox company.

Oh yes and one small green tomato, which smells exactly like my mother’s garden plot. You’ll find me next to it, staring it down and finding pride in it’s possibility. I’m here remembering my mother and hoping to find all the same amusement and joy she plucked out of her own garden. And also, like my mother from 30 years prior overwhelmed by her harvest, I am here clucking on about my one dear tomato daily. Because this first tomato does matter.

Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.

- The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett