It’s All About Me.

I am not a ME person.  I don’t like talking about me.  I don’t like people looking at me.  I don’t like people touching me.  All of that makes me really, really nervous…and twitchy.

If you have spent any time around me, you know “It’s all about me,” is something I say.  In conversations with friends, I say it.  My family jokes about it.  At my jobs, present and past, I have been known to wail,  “Come on you guys! Don’t you get it?  It’s all about me!”  When I worked at Job Corps it  was my slogan, “Look at me. Listen to me. Hang out with me.  IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.”

Obviously the reality is/was NONE of it is really about me.  It was really all about the stories, the work, the people, and the effort to make progress, take action, touch lives.

I am not a ME person.  I don’t like talking about me.  I don’t like people looking at me.  I don’t like people touching me.  All of that makes me really, really nervous…and twitchy.

Ohhh I know some of you might be thinking,  “Bull! I know Denise and she is the loudest, most talkative person in the room! Any room!”  And that’s true, too.  I can be that person. Sometimes I am that person. I mean, get me talking and I will probably tell you anything.  Take a road trip with me and you will know my life story. But having a big mouth and wanting to be the center of attention are two different things.

The real me, the one whom only my closest friends knows, recognize that even the thought of people looking at me freaks me out.  My clothes, my hair, my makeup?  That sh*t’s about anxiety.  If people HAVE to look at me at least I want to feel good about myself while they do it.

Once I found out a guy from another department thought I was pretty.  I should have thought that a nice compliment and moved on with my life.  Instead, it freaked me out.  I went out of my way to avoid that guy AT ALL COSTS.  If I had to walk by him, I may have mumbled a hello, but that’s it.  I never had a conversation with the guy.  I was too damn freaked out.

dont look
You can look at my Etsy shop from here though… Wordsmithstudios on www.etsy.com/shop/wordsmithstudios

When the subject of my Etsy shop comes up I get all twitchy.  Yes, I paint.  I sell those paintings on Etsy.  No, I do not want to talk to you about it and please don’t tell me you love my “work.”  And please, whatever you do, don’t open the gift I made for you (probably agonized over giving you) in front of me or the crowd of people here at your party. ugh.

If I have a medical scare or issue, I am not telling you. Or anyone.  Oh, hell no.  I might say something about it later in casual conversation, cause that’s Big Mouth Denise. “Yeah, I had a melanoma scare once, too” But I am not going to call a family meeting to make a health statement. Or call my mom to specifically tell her about it.  I just can’t do it.

I don’t really even want to share the little things.  My first brand new car on social media? Probably not.  Probably not the pics of the first time I run into something with my new ride either.  Or the 2nd time. Or the 3rd…Ok, there might even have been a 4th, but I’m not going to announce it.

All of those things drive my mother crazy.  She feels like she’s always the last to know everything.  She isn’t always and it isn’t personal. The only other people who know are those I run into at the grocery store or the halls at work, but do they even count?  I know, I know,  she IS my mom and feels like I should tell her stuff.  Or I should at least tell her before I tell anyone else.  I get that.  I just don’t tell people stuff in an intentional way.

I guess for me sharing  happens organically.  You know, stuff just comes out in its own way and time.  Or it gets puked out by my big mouth.  Yeahhhh, organically is a good way to describe it.

P.S. Mom, I also use curbside pick-up at the grocery store WAY more often now so no need to worry about the grocery store people at least 😉 

Four Areas of Focus

After my layoff for the first time in a long time I felt defeated.  It wasn’t just the layoff.  It was years in a toxic, unsupportive environment.  So when I walked away (or was pushed),  I felt like I was leaving pieces of myself behind me.  I was this broken hull of a shell and the pieces were falling away bit by bit all the way home.  Like Hansel and Gretel except I was walking away from the scary monster instead of toward it.

The problem was, what I was walking toward was also scary.  It was a form with no shape, and I was a shape with no form.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Restorative Justice helped me bring my life back into focus.  (See A Rebuilding Year or restorativejustice.org for more info) A restorative plan is broken into 4 parts that address Community,  Family,  Self,  and Victim (those who have been harmed.)  Those were the 4 areas that brought me back to life.

Family  

It started with my family.  It was the perfect time of year for that–smack in the middle of the holidays– and I was completely immersed.  I could keep busy with holiday planning and all the cheer and chaos that comes with the holidays.

In my last post I said I would be talking about dinner again and here it is.  Dinner, as much as I hated it when I was working became my grounding force.  No matter what else had gone on during the day, no matter how sh*tty I may have felt, I knew I had to pull it together and make something for dinner.  Everyone was thankful to be eating and that feedback filled me up.  Seems like a simple thing now, but at the time, it was huge.

I am also so thankful for how supportive my family was throughout my layoff.  Even when it was approaching 6 months, my husband never complained to me about money and my kids always reinforced how glad they were I was home.  My parents and extended family never implied I was being lazy; they all just supported the idea I would find something when I was ready.

Self

I didn’t lay around feeling sorry for myself.  I got to work doing things I wanted to do.  I really wanted to blog, so one of the first things I did was start my blog back up.  In the beginning, it helped me to process my situation in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able.  I look back at my posts now and I can see my healing pattern.

I revamped my Etsy site and painted like crazy.  Then I started reorganizing my house and cleaning things out.  I blogged about cleaning out my closets.  When I got to my own closet, I was horrified to realize I had so many clothes!  Some things I hadn’t even worn more than once and not because I didn’t want to, but because of the sheer VOLUME of things I had. (The money and time spent on all those clothes is another blog post in itself.)

Some research led me to a selling app called PoshMark.  I literally just started selling off my clothes. (You can get $5 of free credit on PoshMark if you use WORDSMITHSHOP when you sign up).  I can’t communicate the sense of relief I felt from purging my closet. It was like shedding another layer of stress every time I sold an article of clothing. I am still selling and the feeling hasn’t stopped.

Victim

In Restorative Justice, the victim is the one who was harmed and the work focuses on how to repair the harm that has been done.

I never saw myself as a victim during the time I was employed or unemployed.  I would have described myself as angry, defeated, bitter, or hurt, but never as a victim.

God Friended Me
We watch God Friended Me on CBS and Miles the main character, summed up my life during one of his podcasts.

However, when I look back objectively, I can see that I was “victimized.”  I realize that’s a strong word, but it’s also accurate. There was a significant amount of workplace manipulation and intimidation that happened in the company that I had to manage personally. My unemployment was just the grand finale.

I also accept that I made many mistakes as an employee.  Those mistakes were offset by many more highlights.  I learned more than I could ever write about in any blog and I gained more than I ever lost.  That is my truth.

However, my experiences left me scared and my fear snowballed.  The fear made me question everything and the more I questioned, the more fearful I became.  I put pressure on myself.  What if I couldn’t find a job?  Or worse, what if I couldn’t find a job I liked or that didn’t make a difference?  (I can feel my chest tightening even as I write this and relive those thoughts).   If I found a job opportunity or was approached with a job opportunity,  I would panic.  I was afraid of ending up in a situation like I had just left.

Finally, a part-time position opened at a local university that looked interesting. I did my research, applied, interviewed, and got the job.  It turned out to be just what I needed.

A bonus benefit for working there is free education. While I am part-time, I can take classes for free and if I decide to go full-time, my family can go for free.  10 years ago I started my graduate degree, but life got in the way and I never finished.  It has been something I have always wanted to complete.  The timing was perfect.

The part-time hours would also allow me to continue focusing on the Restorative Justice cases which were coming in consistently.  It was becoming clear to me that my passion for meaningful work would be found there.

Community 

Perhaps the single most important lesson I learned in the past year is that I can make a difference no matter where I am or where I work.  I don’t have to sit on boards or gain national attention or even strategize ridiculous office politics to make an impact.

I’ve made important connections in the local community on behalf of Restorative Justice and youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The work is meaningful, interesting, and fulfilling and I enjoy it more than I ever expected.  It really is magic. Magic that I accomplish in only 10 or 12 hours a week.  And I make my own schedule.

It’s All About Me.

The place I am in now is one of balance.  I honestly don’t feel stressed or anxious on most days. I don’t feel overwhelmed or guilty and I am not dropping balls or ceaselessly apologizing to people for missing something.   I am meeting my needs and the needs of my family.  Not only that, I have time for friends.  FRIENDS!

Bit by bit, I have chipped away at the raw, hard, shapeless form I started with a year ago and am starting to relax into this new life I created.

It’s not perfect.  I still question myself and my choices every day.  I question if I deserve to be here, to be happy, to be balanced, to be in control of my choices.  I question my ability to do my job. I question my skills, my qualifications, my potential…But I remind myself to stay in the moment and embrace it.

And I do things to remind myself to stay true.  Like, I got a tattoo with my friend Aleigh.  Something I NEVER thought I would do- the tattoo, I mean.  It was a great day.

Until next time…

A Rebuilding Year

Ironic really, that I have one of  most incredible light-bulb moments of my life and it is that I should just shut up. Even more ironic is that it happens during the year that has been unofficially dubbed “the year of the woman.”

Gotta love FaceBook.  A few weeks ago it reminded me it’s been a year since I celebrated NOT getting laid off.

Well…. I guess we celebrated that milestone a few weeks too early.

I know. It’s been awhile since I have written.  I have been busy trying to figure things out. I haven’t been in a mindset to write about what’s been happening.  This year hasn’t been a bad year.  It’s actually been a pretty good year, it’s just been hard to fit all the pieces together.

In basketball, we called that rebuilding.  Our college team fortunately did not have any rebuilding years.  We were good every year. (YAY US!)  But in high school my sophomore year was a rebuilding year.  We went 1-17 (that’s 1 win and 17 losses).  I remember as a team we couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t win.  We were a pretty good team, with some pretty good players.  We just couldn’t seem to put it all together.

That was also the first year the 3-point shot was incorporated into high school ball. (I know– I’m OLD.) I scored the first 3 pointer for my high school team in my high school’s history.  My dad reminded me of that little tidbit as we were on our way to my high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony where I was being inducted along with 4 other former athletes.

2017 Old Town High School Athletic Hall of Fame
My younger brother and I. He was inducted in the 2013 class for track and is still an AMAZING athlete.

I experienced a similar highlight when my college basketball team was inducted into our college Athletic Hall of Fame a few months later.  My family and I attended that ceremony along with most of my college teammates.  That was an awesome night.  My teammates and I have remained close friends over the last 20 years but haven’t been all together for a long time.

SJC Monks Basketball Team.
1991-1992 Saint Josephs Women’s Basketball Team. I love these women! Fun fact: our plaques are made from our old gym court–“The Chamber of Horrors”

See, not a bad year.

Despite those specific positive events and many more, I still had the feeling of not being able to put it all together. I felt disjointed.  I needed to be put back together. I needed rebuilding.  It does sound cliche. I thought the whole “I am working on myself,” thing a bit stereotypical of a 40-something in a mid-life crisis brought on by a mid-life event a little dramatic. Even for dramatic me.

But life just kind of does that to you.  It teaches.  Like before I became a mom, I had opinions on all kinds of parenting.  I was the BEST kind of parent, right?  The one who had never parented?  I was the one in the restaurant who whispered to the person with me: Gee, can’t they shut that kid up? / Keep that kid still? / Teach that kid manners? 

Then I had kids and I learned I had no idea how to parent and I had no right to judge anyone EVER. Holy $h*t. Sometimes I think that’s why The Universe gifted me McKenna. (see Do I Really Have an 18 Year Old?? ) 

You want to be judgmental, Denise?  Fine, now I am going to give you a run for your judgmental a$$. All my love, The Universe

And by God, I got a run for my money.  And I learned my lesson.  I learned not to be judgmental of other parents, but I learned a billion other things in the process, including how fiercely I can love another human being.  And how proud I can be of BOTH my little  human beings.

family-at-christmas.jpg
2017 Smith Family Christmas. I love this photo! And yes, I am even proud of my son’s middle finger.

My learning curve this time revolved around employment. Believe it or not, I questioned the judgement of those parents who chose work over family (even though I was choosing work over family (smh ), those who let their jobs define them (ahem…me), and those who became terrified of losing their new job after having once been laid off from an old job.  (I’m not there yet, but I’m terrified in other ways.)

Clearly The Universe felt I needed a wake-up call.

I have done lots of reflecting.  This go round with The Universe has taken me through every emotion you can imagine.  Here are some highlights of where I landed.

The work/life balance is real.  When I started being home 100% of the time, it REALLY highlighted my lack of balance.  I was probably at 85% work and 15% family.  I loved my job and it took over everything.  This year helped me to understand I can love a job, feel invested and make a difference, without giving my life to the job or letting it define me.

I achieved that understanding through the work I do for a local non-profit organization providing Restorative Justice Facilitation.  Restorative Justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it recognizes that the crime also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community.  A just response must address those harmed as well as the wrongdoing. (restorativejustice.org)

My role as a facilitator is to bring those parties together, discuss the harm that has been done, and how it can be repaired.  There is a lot of work that happens between the crime and the bringing together, but all of it–it is life-changing. And the circle process, the bringing together of the parties– I call it MAGIC. 

That job is only 10 or 15 hours a week, but it feeds my soul enough that I don’t need it to eat up 85% of my life.

Which is good because FULL DISCLOSURE, I work 20 hours a week at a local university.  That job doesn’t feed my soul, but it’s consistent and contributes to the bills, which is important if I want to continue to be a responsible adult. It will also help me as I continue to rebuild.  I will share more specifically about that in a future installment. 🙂

Dinner is worth the effort.  If you have read my stuff in the past you know I hate to cook.  My past life attempts at dinner were sub-standard at best.  Dinner at the Smiths consisted of pre-made or processed foods, heat-and-eat portions, lots of chicken fingers.  I just didn’t have the time or mental energy to put into cooking.

my kind of dinner
Yeah, basically what I was serving up at La Casa Smith.

When I lost my job, I didn’t have an excuse not to cook and we didn’t have the extra money to spend on pre-packaged food.  I started making REAL food.  I don’t really buy anything pre-done anymore.  Not even spaghetti sauce in a jar.  It doesn’t take that much time or effort to make it myself and it is much healthier for us.  More importantly,  I feel so much better about it.

Which feeds my soul literally AND figuratively.  It also feeds my ego because no one complains anymore.  They just eat.

And while I recognize the topic of dinner may seem redundant to you as, YES, I KNOW  I have discussed it before.  **Spoiler alert – it will come up again.**

Sharing is not always caring. For some people that might be an obvious sentence.  I am not some people.  I have always been the type who puts everything out there–thoughts, feelings, trust…100%, all of me, every bit of me, all the time.  Loyal followers and close friends know that is likely TOO MUCH of me, TOO MUCH of the time.  I always believed being truly authentic meant putting it all out there.

I have changed a lot over the last 10 years. I evolved from a mouthy, immature and emotional employee to a mature, focused, and educated supervising professional.  Where I didn’t hold back was in discussions with “trusted” colleagues, if someone asked my personal opinion, or if I was venting in what I thought was a safe space. I am a venter.

What I learned from the last 3 years and what came to head in the last year, is that sometimes being true to myself might be staying quiet.  Not everyone is looking out for my best interest and sometimes what I share can hurt me.

I realized that sometimes it’s more important to be strategic in a conversation than it is to be right. Or honest.  Which goes against everything I am.  Which creates the kind of communicator who cannot communicate… who umms and ahhhs and studders. Who can’t find the right words to say whatever the HELL  she is trying to say….But hopefully I will get better at it as I practice.

Ironic really, that I have one of  most incredible light-bulb moments of my life and it is that I should just shut up. HA! Even more ironic is that it happens during the year that has been unofficially dubbed “the year of the woman.” hahaha, Right?!

Oh well, I still get the last laugh because what all of this boils down to, the ultimate lesson, is it really is All About Me.  Ahhh, I love saying that.

I’m just going to leave it there for now, but don’t worry, I’m TOTALLY going to expand on the ME stuff.  Are you kidding?

Until next time…

Out of the Closet

https://www.etsy.com/your/shops/worDSMITHstudios/
I’m working on it!

My newfound extra time has allowed me the opportunity to clean out areas of my house I haven’t been able to get to for awhile.  I have closets full of stuff I literally stuck in there so I didn’t have to look at it scattered about in the house. 

It’s ironic really, I mean, we laugh about my daughter and how she cleans her room by throwing everything in her closet.  So when she proudly announces, “look, I cleaned my room.” She is also saying, Do.NOT.look.in.the.closet!   

I guess I have been doing the same thing for years.   Don’t know where to put this basket?  I’ll just tuck it in the hall closet.  I’ll remember where I put it when I need it.  This quart of paint I don’t feel like trucking to the basement?  Hall closet.  The extra printer supplies for the printer with no ink? 
 
Yup.  Hall closet.  Now where did I put that basket that time…?
 
I have a pretty big house.  And the people who built it did a great job with storage.  I have a lot of closets and cabinet space.  Over these years as I picked up behind the kids or found shit I wasn’t ready to donate, I just stuck it in one of the many storage spots I had all around the house. 
 
If I don’t have to look at it, it doesn’t exist and if I don’t have to look at it, I can resume control of my life with a clean house and less stress.  I adapted the ‘Whatever Works’ philosophy.

Except it’s really still there.  The stress, I mean. The stress of knowing the hall closet and the bathroom closet and pantrys and every nook and cranny is full of crap that EVENTUALLY is going to need to be cleaned out.  Those things, piled up, are really still in the back of my mind. 

*Ohhh Dennnissse* (It’s the musical voice from inside my head) when are you going to get to cleaning out those closets and moving that crap to the basement?  And then when are you going to clean out the basement and take all that crap to Goodwill??? I am writing this as I look at my white board that also lists “clean out upstairs closet.” Like I literally need to nag MYSELF.  (As you can see, I also need to clean the top of my kitchen cabinets. They get really dusty and gross. Especially when they haven’t been wiped in like, 10 years…)  

 
And so here I am, again, unemployed and FINALLY I have time to go through all the CRAP I have collected over the years.  And what do I do?  I spend precious cleaning time reflecting because, of course there are so many things to look at as that cleaning out the closet becomes an all-day affair.   There are pictures the kids drew, cards they made for me, old photos, and of course, the old slate book. 
 
The ‘old slate book’?  Well, funny you should ask.  It’s kind of a long story, but it is all connected.  You may also be asking what this WorDSMITHstudios business is all about and why I said I am ‘back at blogging,’ when you only read my first post last week. 
 
Me looking like I can barely
fit through the bathroom door.

Well, a few confessions:

1.       I have a shop on Etsy.
2.       This is not my first painting gig.
3.      This is not my first blog. 
 
Not wildly surprising?  A bit of history for those just checking in:
I first started painting when I was pregnant with my daughter.  That was 1999.  Y2K was a thing and many thought the world was going to end.   My husband and I were happy and healthy,  living at and managing at a small camping resort in Western Maine. (papoosepondresort.com).  

We didn’t believe the world was going to end (sometimes the dangerously optimistic thing can rub off), so we got pregnant. 
 
Not only was I pregnant, but I was ENORMOUSLY pregnant.  Imagine a summer filled with all the ice-cream and candy and pizza you want literally RIGHT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS and available anytime, steps away from your front door.  Then imagine the freedom from guilt that comes when you are pregnant–I mean, you’re going to get fat anyway.  Why not eat what you want?  I spent that glorious summer getting back at every morsel of food that ever made me feel guilty when it crossed my lips.   
 
Actually, I hadn’t been a parent yet, so it was before I knew was guilty felt like.
 
It was *BLISS*
 
The consequence?  60 pounds gained and pre-eclampsia 7 months in.  The doc didn’t go so far as to put me on bedrest, but I was pulled from working and ordered to stay off my feet as much as possible.   
 
Kinda like bedrest, but not bedrest.  Makes sense.
 
As I type this I am 45.  (And unemployed–as if you could forget).   I am a Type A personality, but I would say I have chilled a lot over the years.  Back in my Papoose Pond days, when I was 27, I hadn’t experienced what it was like to have kids.  Kids help you realize there are some things that are worth stressing over in the moment and somethings you put in a closet to worry about later. 
 
These days, my Type A corners are a little more rounded than they were when I was 27.  Experience softens the edges, blurs the lines, makes everything a little less rigid.  When I was 27, I was mad about everything, stressed about everything, YELLED about everything, fought everything. And I wasn’t the type to sit around much.  I was still figuring it out.   I was a happy person… pretty much.  I was fun.  I WAS. 
   
Anyway, my husband and I were trying to find me something to do to occupy my Type A+ personality and still follow the doctor’s orders.  My husband was trying VERY hard because as you can imagine, I also was still learning how not to take my frustration out on him. (I’m still working on that one.)   
 
Welcome Slate

A trip to the resort’s craft barn resulted in some stone slate, transfer paper, paintbrushes, and acrylic paints. I was to find a picture I liked, trace it onto the slate, and paint the picture. 

Now, I had never done any painting.  Except for walls and I sucked (still suck) at that.  It never fails.  I always roll too high and get an entire roller mark on the ceiling.  Or put too much paint on the roller and drip all over the baseboards.  When I use painter’s tape, paint always gets under the tape–I don’t get that—and if I don’t then, you guessed it, baseboards and trim get marked all up.  I end up doing two paint jobs– the walls and the trim, which of course never looks the same.   

 
Buuuut, hey.  This was going to be different.  And when you’re bored the way that I was bored–the Type A+ way—you grit your teeth and paint as closely in the lines of whatever the heck you traced as you can.  I can’t even remember what I painted, but I remember when I was done, it was pretty good!  
 
Who needs Bob Ross?
So I just kept painting. Corey dug out what was left of those slates in the craft barn and I went to town.  I wrote WELCOME on them and painted one for everyone I knew.  Then I started taking photos of what I made, printing the page, and putting it in a binder.  The binder, aka, The Slate Book or Denise’s Slates, became 2-inches thick. People could flip through and choose what they wanted.  Then, Order UP!  I would make it for them. I charged like $20 a piece.
 

For 2 years I paid for our Christmas and other odds & ends with the money I earned from painting slates.  

A commission I did; a small old photo
transferred to an oil canvas.
Photo is on the right.

Then one day, I was painting 3 of the same slate, side by side sweatshop style.  I vividly remember looking down at those paintings–it was a holiday theme and had a group of  holiday characters together-  Uncle Sam, a snowman, Santa, the Easter Bunny–and saying, “THIS sucks.” 

 
And that was it. 
 

I didn’t paint again for a long time.  Then I randomly started to do a few commissions for people; painting pictures of people from photographs.  Then I messed around with some oil paints.  But nothing consistent. 

 And then my husband got laid off from his job.  And WorDSMITHstudios was born. 

A lot happened in between.  Like how I sucked as a stay at home mom.  How I pretty much sucked as a mom all-around most of my daughter’s first 3 years.  Poor kid.  How I discovered my passion for working with youth.  Had another kid.  Learned I might not have been such a bad mom after all.  Started a blog I LOVED, then used really poor judgement and had to give it up. Read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time and felt blown away. Learned what it means to be a compassionate person. Realized the mistakes and failures I have experienced in my life were not something to be ashamed of, but to embrace because life is about growth. 

Oh wait– *sigh*  I just realized McKenna learned her ifyoucantseeit room cleaning trick from me.  The closet thing?  Great. 

 
Yeah, we can talk about all that.