We are Not Alone

But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other. This is how we, as humans, recognize that we are not alone.

wordsmithstudios.org

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read.  When I was a kid and would spend weekends at my grandmothers, my cousins would give me a hard time for having my nose stuck in a book.

“You’re such a bookworm,” they would razz.

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Remember Sweet Valley High? I read a few…

It’s true.   I can’t stay awake long enough to read an ACTUAL book these days, though.  Instead I listen to audio books I borrow from the library.  I have listened to hundreds of them.  Audio books are an even better choice for  me since they feed my need to multi-task.  I can listen and drive, listen and fold laundry, listen and paint…It is so satisfying to do something you love while you do something you hate–listen and clean, for example.

I  also really like quotes.  Inspirational quotes or funny quotes, sports quotes…it doesn’t matter.  There  is always a quote out there that communicates whatever message I want to send.  I used quotes to send messages of inspiration when I worked with students in my old job.  I had a student who was in jail at one point and that was our thing; I sent him a special quote, one I thought he would identify with and encourage him to hang in there.

Also at my old job,  I would get a quote a day from this website called Values.com.  If I got a quote I particularly liked, I sent it out to the rest of the colleagues in our department.  You know, I thought it was a nice thing to share.  One day my supervisor was like, “So what’s up with the quotes anyway?  Who do you think we are, Hallmark?”

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One of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela

I stopped forwarding them after that.  Clearly, he didn’t appreciate my inspiration.  Ha!

When my goal of being a teacher crashed and burned–that was during my senior year of college  (a  story for a later blog) I got to experience a fifth year of college.  I’m sure many of you can relate to the 5 year plan, right?

For me,  a 5th year of school was one of the best things that ever happened.   I played another year of basketball, I met my husband, and I enrolled in a bunch of writing classes.

I wasn’t interested in writing, but my  life had just blown up.  The only career choice I had ever known was off the table.  And I was an English major!  The only classes  left in my major were writing or communications classes.  So writing it was.

I also spent extra time in class with my basketball teammate and now world-famous, Andrea Gibson.  If you don’t know who she is, you should google her.  She was awesome in college and I am glad the world knows her now, too.  Granted, we had no idea she was such a talented writer and performer, but we were not surprised to learn of it.  She is pretty awesome.

The discovery that I actually enjoyed writing  wasn’t a HUGE  surprise either.  College was the gift that kept on giving.  I was finding out more and more about myself and I just added writing to the list.

So far, I discovered that on the court I could, in fact, play defense in addition to shooting a helluva 3-point shot.   I sucked at teaching. Not really, but you know, long story.   I was really an extrovert (who knew?!).  Boys kinda dug me, in fact there was even this one boy who really, REALLY dug me (except he was shorter than me), I was going to have student loans for the rest of my life, and I STILL had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But hey, at least I could write.  *sigh*

Well, flash forward 20 years later and here I am,  married to that short boy with 2 kids,  both of whom, at 12 and 18 are taller than he, a topic which is also a fun discussion in our home.

That short boy (he will love reading about himself being called this) also led me to something else I love: My Etsy Shop.

My Etsy shop is something I have grown to love more than I could ever begin to write about.  Maybe that’s because Andrea and I skipped the class that focused on emotional descriptors.  Or, more likely it’s because the description has become way more than words can describe.   Andrea and I only skipped one class and we got in trouble for it. The nuns at my college did not appreciate skippers.  Especially skippers who were on the basketball team.  Welp.

I have told this story before, but pre-Etsy life, Corey (that’s my husband’s actual NAME), was working at the one casino we have in our community.  He  worked there for a number of years. He had been promoted several times, was making decent money, and earned himself decent bonus checks each year.

The money was nice, but the bonus checks, ROCKED.  We used those for our extras.  Paid off a car, went on vacation, remodeled our house… But Corey hated the job.  It was really stressful.  He worked long days.  He was on-call when he wasn’t working.  He worked weekends and holidays–holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He put on a lot of weight because he would stress eat.  He wasn’t healthy.  He wasn’t happy.

I encouraged him to look for another job, but he was reluctant because the pay and the benefits were so good.  He was the provider, after all.

Finally push came to shove and Corey had a choice.  The casino was downsizing.  He could take another position or he could be laid off.

He chose to be done.  It was the best choice.  But that left us a little out of control.  And that’s not good for me.  I like to fix, remember?   I’m a fixer.  I am the Olivia Pope of the Smith family.

Side note:  Except I am not this season’s Olivia Pope.  I am not Command.  I wear and will always wear the white hat.

My fixing brought me to Etsy.  I had done a little research.  Quotes and words on signs was just becoming big; there wasn’t much of it being done by hand.  I had done a little painting here and there.  I had nice hand writing.  I figured, what the hell?

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One of the first 8 paintings I put up on Etsy. No one ever bought it. Hahaha

And I launched WorDSMITHstudios.

The first paintings I did were horrible.   I look back at them now and I can’t even believe it.  I think Corey was thinking I was a little crazy, too.  Crazy like, whothehellisgoingtobuythatshit, crazy.   Even still, I sold my first painting the very first day I went live.  And I have been painting ever since.

The biggest surprise, and I continue to be surprised, is that I expected Etsy sales to be a transaction on a website, a sale between 2 people who never meet, talk, or interact. However, it has been so much more than that. 

Etsy is about relationships.  It has been about sharing stories about loved ones or about love lost.  It has been about connecting over children and the challenges we have in raising them, about being moms and feeling guilty when we work, or when we don’t.

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Some of the work I am doing now. MUCH better.

Etsy has been about supporting each other in our craft, looking out for each other and the work we do to create  a community of talent and sharing it with others across the world.

I am not going to get rich off my art.  That’s ok.  But I will be rich in my soul from the tremendous amount of fulfillment the love of this craft brings me.

It’s the same kind of fulfillment writing this blog brings me.  I won’t be a famous writer.  Thousands of people won’t read my thoughts.  I certainly won’t be going on tour with Andrea any time soon, sharing her stage with my spoken word.  But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other.

This is how we, as humans,  recognize that we are not alone.

This is how we create relationships and relationships are where we find meaning in our lives.  It’s where we find love, happiness,and hope.

Because life is about relationships.

I Still Shower.

Corey says I laugh more. Even though I  shower less.  A lot less. 

wordsmithstudios, Chronicles of the Dangerously OptimisticReinvention.  I like the spin that word puts on where I am right now, but I am not sure it really describes my path.  Someone else talked about finding my identity and that could be a little closer to how I feel.

I ruptured my achilles tendon a little over 10 years ago.  I have told the story often because it demonstrates my personality and also *could* be an example for karma, if you believe in such things.

I do.

I was working at our local Job Corps Center  as a career counselor at the time.  I really loved my job there.  Talk about great kids who just needed someone to connect to–I am still connected to some of those great kids, actually.  They aren’t kids anymore.  They have grown up to be wonderful and amazing adults.  That  job was another job I thought I would never leave…haha…it’s always funny where life takes you.

Back when I worked at Job Corps, the population was pretty diverse in relation to where I grew up.   I grew up in a hard working middle class family in rural Maine.  My high school had ONE African American student.  Job Corps had all races and socio-economic classes represented.  There was white middle class America, but there was a lot of representation from rural Maine-specifically poor, rural Maine.  It wasn’t unusual for students to lack running water where they lived or to come from limited access to consistent heat in the winter.

In opposition to that were the students from the cities.  I had students on my caseload from Bridgeport, CT.  New Jersey, Puerto Rico.  Students who were legit members of gangs.  One of my all-time favorite students was a member of the Latin Kings.  Well, technically he was a former member because you can’t be affiliated with a gang and be enrolled in the Job Corps program.  The story was, he had a young daughter who because of his gang status, had literally  been born into the gang.  He had come to Job Corps to get away from all that.

Imagine ME the most naive person on the planet trying  to connect with and gain the trust of ANY of these populations.  Especially those who hail from outside of Maine.

And those were just the surface level demographics.  Of course there is way more to a person than where he/she lives.

I did the only thing I knew I could do I embraced my naivety.  I asked a billion questions and believed everything those kids said.   I supported them and tried to help them create a career plan that worked AND…

I talked smack.

The center had a mostly male population, so that’s what they were doing to each other.  I razzed the SHIT out of them.  In a good way.  I told them about my basketball career.  Talked up  my time in college.   It got them to open up a little.  We talked smack to each other. We connected.  It was fun and we laughed.  Then when they let their guard down,  I would hit them with the hard questions.  (wahahaha- that’s my evil man laugh)

Then in 2007, someone planned a staff/student basketball game.

Then Big Mouth Denise took over and she couldn’t stop.  I talked more smack leading up to that game!  And I had no right to talk so much smack.  I had nothing on these kids.  They were teenagers and had been playing street ball since they were toddlers.  But I just kept talking!  I was gonna shoot the lights out because I was a kick-ass 3 point shooter.

They were probably annoyed.  I didn’t care.  It was really fun.

When the game started, I ran down the court maybe 2 times before I experienced what felt like a hard kick to the back of  my calf.  My friend/co-worker/teammate, Blaine was right behind me.

Friends, I remembered this vividly.  I looked right at him and asked incredulously, “Why the hell did you kick me?”   I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he probably said something like,  “Woman, what are you talking about? I didn’t kick you!”

I limped to the bench and kept trying to stretch out what felt like a charlie horse in my calf muscle.  Every time I tried to get up to go back in, it would seize up and I wouldn’t be able to run.

Karma.

I blocked out the results of the game, but I’m sure we lost because I couldn’t play. 😉

I walked around for a week on that leg.  It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t point my toe that I grasped the significance of the situation.  I googled it and, yup,  I had the symptoms of a ruptured Achilles.  Right down to the feeling of being kicked.  Go figure.

Because I waited so long to go to the doc, my tendon had creeped up inside my leg.  I had emergency surgery and  had to wear a cast from my hip to my toes for about 6 weeks.  Then I had a boot and crutches.  I had months of physical therapy.  I couldn’t work for 3 months.

wordsmithstudios, Chronicles of the dangerously optimistic
Kids sleeping on me when I had my cast on my leg

That time was really hard; I did experience a loss of purpose.  I couldn’t do anything.  I had a 2 year old and a 7 year old at the time, neither of which I could really care for.  It was winter and the doctor didn’t really want me to go out for fear that I would slip and put pressure on my leg.

I remember feeling sad and depressed and I remember my friends being worried for me.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but looked back and articulated it as that loss of purpose.  The loss of contact with the world and what I felt happy doing. I wasn’t getting the ongoing give and take from the students that I was accustomed to or the social interaction I needed from the adults in my life.

Not only that, but I felt like I was failing those I had worked so hard to create relationships.  I wasn’t there to intervene or help when they were having moments of crisis.  I was finding out about students being terminated and sent home.  That favorite Latin King I told you about?  He had caused a pretty big incident on center that involved the police.  I was sick that maybe if I had been at work I could have done something to prevent incidents like that.

Nothing seemed to be going my way.  My smack talking couldn’t have brought on that much negative Karma, could it?

Those were the feelings I described to people when I told that story.  You know, back when I had The Universe by the balls?  That’s why I told the story.  I thought I was relating to people  who couldn’t work or couldn’t find a job or who changed jobs.  And in my defense, it’s all I knew.  I was being authentic and I wasn’t being patronizing intentionally.  However, I was being patronizing.

Sorry about that.

Flash back to 2018, present day.  I still see many of the people I used to work with before I was laid off.  Quite often they ask me where I am working now.   The question is usually  light-hearted, upbeat, positive.  The relationships I created in that job are strong and people feel comfortable asking.  When I say, “I’m doing some part time work, but I’m mostly I’m home.  I’m really good though.”

The person often seems embarrassed for asking.  I don’t understand.  So then I feel embarrassed for saying , which then makes me feel like I have to make them feel better.  You know, FIX IT?

“It’s ok.” I usually say.  “I am right where I am supposed to be. I’m good.”

“Oh…well, that’s good to hear.  Good for you.”

*Awkward silence.*

I am good.   I don’t feel depressed or angry or confused.  I feel supported.  I go back and forth about whether I have lost my sense of purpose or not.  Perhaps I don’t want to admit it.  I do know I don’t feel like I am making a difference.  I feel like I should be doing something bigger.  I feel like I need a ripple. And there is guilt in that.

Guilt between making a difference and making money.  Both are important in different ways and both create fear in different ways.

But Corey says I laugh more.

Even though I  shower less.  A lot less.