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.

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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.

Did You Even Know? It’s a Crisis!!

I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.” Until it was.

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Friends, I have been struggling with  this blog post!  I try to post something once a week.  I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.

Corey calls it the Type A personality in me.  “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again.  You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”

True story.

Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post.  When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words.  Most of my  posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less.  When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little.  His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.

“Wow,” he said.  “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it.  I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Welllll…  Major changes and here we are.  I’ll get right to the point.

Maine, what is happening to us?  Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know.  If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it.  I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.

The Numbers

 Maine is in crisis.    We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born.  So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate.  The baby boomers  are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find  employees to fill their jobs.  We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation.   They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.

And they might be right.

Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs?  Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?

We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise  a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state.  There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers,  in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.

Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant.  It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.

WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment.  It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide.  There are support services for childcare or transportation.  It pays for books.  It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding.  Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college.  WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for  dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.

There is a lot to the grant.   I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it.  I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.

I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24.  Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked.  I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.

Our organization did great work under that grant.   Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did.  They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.

The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds.  It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state.  LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.

My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long.  The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant.  He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.

Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?

The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market.  Get people trained or get them  credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired.   Make sure they are hired at a livable wage.  Make sure they stay working.

Our  job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and  find them viable employment.

ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems.  You know, like welfare?

Anyway,  last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is  targeting WIOA funding again.

I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time  we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals.  In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.

Yet, he didn’t care.  Instead,  we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over.  Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.

I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions.  It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome!  I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”

Until it was.

Shame on you, Governor LePage

We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people.  We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine  so great.

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Is it really?

Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools.  The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that

OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.

We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system.  WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.

We need to do everything we can to empower  individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.

We need to train Mainers.  We need to re-train them.  We need to educate them.  We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed.  We need to keep them in Maine.  We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.

We need to be helping people reach their potential.  We need to do the right thing.   Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable.  Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable.  Maybe it is listening to our subordinates.  Listening to our co-workers.   Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine.  Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation.  I don’t know what your right thing is…  But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things,  is spiraling.  And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.

It is my story after all.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

For  statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about  state, visit these websites:

www.maine.gov/labor/cwri       www.northeasternwdb.org

For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to:    bangordailynews.com

For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/

You Love Winter? I Call Bulls#&t.

Sure, sledding is fun.  I used to have fun sledding, too.  But I also remember being cold and wet and peeing my pants.

wordsmithstudios.orgWell, we just endured another Nor’ester in Maine.  This one, THE worst of the season,  came on the heels of last week’s “worst of the season.”  I have been  thinking  about how much I hate winter.  I especially hate it this time of year, when we have already had our fill of Nor’easters and are just ready to put our feet on some soft green grass, look up at clear blue sky, and hear the birds sing.

Then out of nowhere, I  heard someone say, “I loooovvve winter!” in my head.  I jumped and looked around because I don’t even know who said it!  It just trilled in my head and knocked around a little, you know, like the ball in a pinball machine?  Maybe it was Big Mouth Denise  trying to antagonize me or maybe it was some ghost from the past, but it freaked me out.  Because seriously,

who the hell in their right mind loves winter?

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My front yard after the storm. Yeah, it’s pretty.

I mean, I get that it can be pretty when the snow  comes down and if you are a skier or snowmobiler you get to do those things, but come on, really?  When push comes to shove, do you like winter or are you just making the best of a shitty situation?

Here are a few things I’d like  to remind you of:

  1. Shoveling & snow-blowing. Ok, pretty obvious, we know they suck. If you have to shovel more than a few feet of heavy snow, your back feels it pretty quickly no matter who you are or what your age.

And listen, I call bullshit to those of you out there who say they PREFER snowblowing to plowing.  I understand paying someone to plow can be expensive and purchasing said plow can be an upfront expense many can’t afford.  Hell, I couldn’t afford it.  My Dad bought the plow we have.  He bought the plow and then promptly bought himself a winter home in Florida.

Now as I write this, I even wonder if that plow purchase was a pity purchase?  “Sorry, kid.  I’m going to Florida, but here, I got you your very own plow!  Enjoy!”  Or perhaps it was purchased out of guilt.  “Hey so, we just bought this great place in Florida.  But don’t worry, your Old Man didn’t leave you with nothing.  I got YOU a PLOW!”

In any case, we have it and we appreciate it every time my daughter tells us to get our asses out there and get to plowing. <insert rolling eye emoji>

Anyway,  snow-blowing is not fun.  It’s cold and wet.  And it takes FOREVER.  I don’t care how bad your OCD is, perfectly snow-blown  driveways  or walkways are not worth frozen toes. And if someone were to offer up a warm plow-truck, hot coffee, and sports talk on the radio like my dad did, I find it hard to believe none of you yahoos would accept it.

2. Snow down your boot, back, mitten, neck, pants.  I cringe and get goose bumps even now as I think about it.  It never matters how high my boots are, every time I walk out to my car, snow gets in my boots.  I could wear waders and I would get snow in my boots!

But here’s the thing, in the summer if you stand under the sprinkler or someone douses you with water– THAT  doesn’t feel like you were just stabbed in the foot with 1,000 tiny needles!

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credit: word porn

3. Snow flying off someone else’s car and onto your windshield.  I had a friend who actually caught a full windshield of ice from the car in front of him.  It busted his windshield all up.  He wasn’t hurt, fortunately.

Sunshine doesn’t fly off the car in front of you and bust up your windshield.  Enough said.

4. Heating your house, well, unless money grows on trees for you. This is a real issue for us, Mainers.  Where I live the option is oil or electricity.  My parents did just get one of those fancy heat pumps and that seems to be working well for the small apartment they don’t use in the winter.  (Florida, remember?) And of course, there are the alternative forms of energy like solar or wind.

Like I said, reality in my neck of the woods is oil.  My house is pretty new,  making it relatively energy efficient.  It would be even more energy efficient if my husband would just listen to me already and do some simple winterizing in the fall.  Or even in the winter for that matter. (I can’t do everything, ok?). But it still takes a good chunk to heat this place. And I try to keep the thermostat at 69 or 70. Still, my daughter is always complaining she is cold.

The shorts and t-shirt probably don’t help.

What double sucks is our driveway is right in front of where the oil intake is.  So every time there is a snowstorm and we plow,   we (my husband) also have to shovel a path through that gigantic snow pile for the oil guy.

Winter sucks.

5. Raking the roof.  We have a porch on the front of our house.  I love it.  It’s charming and cute and nice to sit and rock on in the summer.  Ya know, when it’s warm?  In the winter, it’s a snow collector.  After a snow storm like the one we just experienced, it holds 2+ feet of snow up there.  My son, whose room overlooks that porch, can’t see out his window.  That porch, which my son views as an escape route in an emergency, becomes a source of fear because if anything happens, he AIN’T getting out.

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Snow pile in front of my house with      snow on the porch roof

So we have to rake the roof.  Well of course, we don’t have a roof rake. (That’s how we roll at the Smiths.)  One day I called every hardware store and big box store in a 25 mile radius looking for a roof rake and EVERY SINGLE ONE was sold out.  So I did what I should have done in the first place:  I called my Aunt Bev.

“Of course I have a roof rake,” she said.  Of course she has a roof rake, I said.  DUH.  So I picked it up and promptly spent the next  3 torturous hours pulling and yanking heavy, wet snow from our porch roof, only to have the weather turn warm the next day.

Literally, it was 45 degrees and everything melted.

F’n Maine winters. It’s like Mother Nature just rubbing her power in your face.

I mean, I see all your sledding photos on Facebook with your smiles and happy faces.  Sure, sledding is fun.  I used to have fun sledding, too.  But I also remember being cold and wet and peeing my pants. Yeah, I peed my pants!  I would get to laughing so hard that whoops there it is pee in my pants.  It’s a thing.  Maybe I will write more about it someday, but all you need to know now is that no, I’ve never gotten over it.  Maybe I am a little bitter.  But it definitely isn’t influencing my feelings about winter.

So there.  I listed 5 reasons that winter sucks.  Perhaps I listed 5 of the most obvious reasons.  You could say, “Yeah, Denise, when you say it like that, winter sounds so bad. But you did list like 5 of the WORST things.”  (Spoken in that kind of nasally, whiny voice some people use when they want to argue but they really know they have LOST the argument.) 

Not true my friends.  I left a lot out.  I mean, I could have written about dry skin, chapped lips, getting stuck (that’s a big one), falling on the ice, potholes, slippery roads, ridiculous commutes, dirty cars, dirty snow, iced up windshield wipers…

Do I really need to go on?  I mean, didn’t I have you at bulls%@t?

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.

I Used to Be Somebody

I used to be somebody.   I was challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls. What do I do now that I am a nobody?

wordsmithstudios
I used to be somebody

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

When I was working it was a question I asked of  the young people who sat across from me.  These young, insecure, anxious kids were afraid–afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding.  Often I would challenge them with what seemed to me like a simple task, perhaps it was to make a phone call or to arrive to class or work on time or to ask a question during a meeting.

I would say, “Why don’t you ask that question at your next meeting?” or “Why don’t you call your caseworker/RA/supervisor/landlord and ask?” So often the answer would be:

“I can’t.”

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? 

I have challenged my son the same way, though probably not with the exact same question.   He is is smarter than both my husband and I and very outgoing and articulate.

Frankly, being smarter than me isn’t a huge accomplishment, but my husband, HE is pretty smart.  He won’t admit it, but he kinda has a photographic memory.  I say ‘kinda’ because he often forgets when I ask him to do something, like pick up the shit he leaves laying around or that yesterday I told him why I had to leave early today.  But he remembers almost everything he Googles and reads on Facebook.  And judging by the time he spends on both of those, he has A LOT of stuff stored up in that absorbent, photographic brain of his.

Corey’s excuse about not picking up his mess or remembering my schedule is that I never told him in the first place.  That’s stupid and totally his way of messing with me– if I am questioning myself, I can’t blame him.  (Smart, right??)

Did I really forget to tell him to pick up his crap or did I just say it in my head??  Well…who cares!?  He is a grown man;  he should know better.  That’s my go-to argument anyway.  All the while I am questioning myself in my head because I do have a memory problem and forget just about everything I don’t write down on my hand.

Anyway, Kobe is really smart.  The kid loves documentaries and has watched everything he can on Netflix.  So between that, YouTube, and his iPhone, he has harnessed the internet to educate himself and man, he just KNOWS things.  I shake my head in amazement everyday.

He is also incredibly articulate.

Me as keynote speaker during a local chamber awards dinner

And he does really great in school except for one subject: writing.  There is a reason for this, but it’s a long story and doesn’t really matter.  What matters is he hates his class and doesn’t like to ask for help.  The teacher will specifically ask the students if anyone needs help and he won’t ask for help.  If I ask him why,  he just says,

“I can’t.”

*sigh.*

wordsmithstudios; I used to be somebody
When I was in NYC to present at the Federal Reserve

“I can’t,” is so hard for me to hear.  I’m a fixer.  If there is an issue, I hate not being able to FIX IT.   If a challenge comes up in conversation, ANY conversation, I immediately shift  into fix it mode.  My friends will want to vent to me and will have to preface the venting session  with, “Denise, I don’t want you to fix it.  I just want to vent.”  Because they know.  They know for me, it hurts to not SOLVE THE PROBLEM…to take action… to just fix it.

And so here I am, 45 and 3 months into unemployment.  In so many ways I am at peace.  I feel settled at home and continue to enjoy creating a relatively stress free home for my family.   When my husband leaves for work, he even asks what we are having for dinner.  Because he is excited about eating what I make.

Like, when has that ever happened in my 20 years of marriage?

(The answer to that is NEVER, friends.  It has never happened.)

Well, I recently listened to Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I am an audio book listener.  I can’t read anymore.  I just fall asleep.  But I can listen to audio books while I am painting or cleaning or cooking or driving.  So I have listened to a bazillion books.  I LOVE Elizabeth Gilbert.  I loved Eat, Pray, Love.   I connected with that book so deeply. I read it maybe 3 times.  I felt she was literally speaking to me when she wrote it.  I loved her take on spirituality, on God, on life.  I feel like we are friends.

In Big Magic, Liz also asks the question.  She asked me, “Denise, what would you do if you knew you could not fail?  Would you trust yourself, your talents, your work?  Would you put yourself out there and trust that The Universe will provide for you?”

I cried.  I have been busting my ass writing a blog barely anyone reads, marketing mediocre talent in an Etsy shop with mediocre sales.  I just started a PoshMark closet .  I work 10 hours a week for a non-profit that helps juveniles stay out of the justice system.  The most positive feedback I get in a day is that my dinner tasted good.

I used to be somebody.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I think that’s what hit me the hardest.  I was asking that question to others and I was asking it while on some pedestal in a holier than thou spot in The Universe believing I was all that and a bag of chips.   Challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls.

Because I was somebody.

What do I do now that I am a nobody?

And I Rise Above

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.  And I rise above.  

Above
I was having a bad day yesterday.

I  pride myself on my optimism.  I named my blog Chronicles of the Dangerously Optimistic, didn’t I? I mean, I am truly a glass half filled kind of gal.  I always see the good. I have gotten into trouble many times because I have failed to see the bad.  But yesterday, yesterday I was really feeling shitty. And it obviously showed in my blog post.

I am actually a little embarrassed.

Yesterday I wrote about my ReStart.  Lost my job; blessing in disguise.  You know the story.  The details were just intimate to me.  I wrote about my opportunities.  Annnnnd the challenges.  Because now it’s 2 months in and things are getting harder.  So I wrote about ReTiring from this. Stopping this…

Giving up.

I basically whined. I apologize to the people to read that post.

But I also truly feel like things happen for a reason.   The Universe, it does it’s thing.  So when I saw the word of the day today was “Above,”  I figured The Universe was giving me my chance for ReDemption.

 

Yesterday, I was ready to give up on blogging.  I was ready to give up on my goal to cultivate my Etsy business.  Yesterday, I was ready to cut bait and run as they say.

Artwork from my Etsy shop WorDSMITHstudios on Etsy.com

I think that’s what they say…

But I am not giving up.  Hell no.  I am just going to work harder.

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.

And I rise above.

ReStart

That’s kind of what my life is right now. A restart. I am about 8 weeks into life without a job.

RestartThat’s kind of what my life is right now. A restart. I am about 8 weeks into life without a job.

So, I am going to assume, reader, that you haven’t read any of my posts before today.  Not many have, you see.  And that’s ok.  Because part of why I write is for  me.

I will fill you in.  I was laid off from my awesome non-profit gig managing a program that served underprivileged youth.   I did that job for almost 10 years.  I really liked it and those I worked with, but it was demanding and the environment was sometimes hostile.

The work, the program, my team and the participants of the program made what I did worth all the demands of the job and the hostility of the environment.

However, my family often took a backseat.   So when I was abruptly laid-off, my family saw it as a good thing.  They were tired of of being in the backseat.

I think the The Universe decided to step in for all of us.  It pulled me from my vortex of running  and RAGING and just decided to

STOP

everything for me to take a breath.  So I could

ReSTART.

And surprisingly, unemployment has been going great. I am being a mother.  I am being a wife. My family comes first.  I haven’t been late for almost every appointment because I was rushing from the office.  I have cooked meals that don’t come out of the microwave–I actually cut up vegetables.  My family wants to eat what I cook.

My family is happy and even more surprisingly, I am happy, too. I like being a mother and a wife.  I think everyone was a little nervous at first, including me.  They were afraid I would get bored.

But I am not. Because I am getting my ReStart.

I am pursuing my love of writing and creating art.

I have an Etsy shop.  I started in 2013 and it has been a hobby for me for the last 5 years.  This restart became an opportunity.  An opportunity I embraced with both arms.

Well, I have created all of my social media accounts.  I am pinning on Pinterest like a mad woman.  I am blogging every week.

Painting.  Writing.  Restarting.

And things seem to be moving!  My Instagram followers have doubled.  My presence  and impressions on Pinterest continue to increase.   My stats and views on Etsy keep growing as I add pieces.  1000 people read my first blog post.

And 50 read my second.  WAHHHHH.

And no one is buying.  I haven’t had an Etsy sale in over a month.

And now the mortgage is due and the cell phone bill is due and the credit card bill is due and I am beginning to wonder if this whole restart thing was a good idea after all.

Now I just feel fear.  Now I am beginning to see my restart as more like  restrain.  Repress.  Reduce.

RETIRE.

Do I Really Have an 18 Year Old??

Stories of love, laughter, and inspiration. Read about what moves me, frustrates me, and most importantly EMPOWERs me as I learn how to rewrite the script of life by blending art and words.

My daughter turned 18 Sunday.  18.  There are so, so many things that run through my head that correspond to that sentence.  I mean-  The first is, She is 18; she is an adult!  But then  my mind goes a little crazy, ya know? Like:

  • She is 18. I can kick her out anytime I want with no consequences.
  • I just blinked and she is 18!
  • She is FINALLY 18.
  • She is damn lucky she made it to 18.
  • My baby is 18???
  • I am old enough to have an 18-year-old?
  • Really? I am really old enough to have an 18-year-old?

And that is where I sit. Obviously, 18 has been coming.  I know how to count.  We have been preparing for this for the last 18 years.

It really sunk in a few weeks ago, when she and I went to a doctor’s appointment.  Lately, she has been going into the appointments by herself.  It’s new, but no big deal.  Less for me to worry about and more independence for her.   This time when she returned to me in the waiting room she had one of those sh*t-eating grins on her face and proudly announced she had gotten her tetanus booster during her appointment.  While I was in the waiting room. And I hadn’t heard any screams or cries.

She had gotten a shot allbyherself.  This child…oh man…this child has helled me over the years with shots.  She has been DEATHLY afraid of needles and has gotten herself so worked up and hysterical that half the time I had to  BEG the doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand,  to perform the procedure and get it over with because said  doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand was so freaked out by her reaction THEY didn’t dare administer the injection.

And that was  barely 3 months ago when she had her wisdom teeth out.

McKenna after breaking her wrist at age 2

When McKenna  was 2 she fell off the jungle gym and broke her wrist.  At the ER, they tried to give her a shot for the pain and she was so strong she shoved two nurses off of her. One was just starting the injection and wasn’t prepared to be hefted aside so easily.  The nurse dragged the needle down the side of McKenna’s thigh as she was pushed by that angry 2-year-old.   She still has a scar!

Back to present day injection completed.  Sh*t eating grin meets WTF? face.

“How the hell did you manage that?” I asked incredulously.   She shrugged and said, “Well, I told myself I couldn’t be 18 and still need my mom to hold my hand while I got a shot.”

That was when it hit me that I have an 18-year-old.  This child…this child whom I can still feel inside me, rolling around kicking, all the time kicking, and whom I always imagined was always just bursting to GET OUT into the world and start – This child who was almost literally pooped out in the toilet just yesterday, is 18.

1 week old & not looking at all like a toilet baby. 🙂

Ahem.  Pooped out in a toilet?  Yup.  She was born almost 2 weeks early and almost in the toilet. I didn’t know what childbirth felt like.  I just knew I felt like I needed to poop.  So by the time I got to the hospital, I couldn’t imagine why I needed to poop SO BAD and WHY wouldn’t it just come out already!!??  Then imagine how upset I was to learn my carefully written birth plan, which included an epidural, was null and void because my baby was already crowning!

And I had been trying to poop her out.  Nobody tells you that stuff!  Am I right?  Except now I do.  If you are pregnant and I halfway know you, I will tell you.  Because no one told me and look what happened.  I almost had my baby in the toilet.

Then I think.  Holy sh*t.  She is almost 18.  She is leaving for college in New Hampshire in 7 months. and counting.

Hallelujah!

Did I say that out loud? Now I feel guilty again. *sigh* You just don’t understand.  Let me explain.   McKenna has been a little challenging.  We joke about it now.  She and I.  Corey and I and just about anyone who sits beside us at an athletic event.   Or at any event.  Or in line at the grocery store.  Or anywhere really. Sorry strangers.  We aren’t really crazy.  Or bad parents.  I don’t think…We just TALK about it.  It’s like our therapy.

There was this time when she was about 3 or 4 and she broke down a wooden door when because we put her in time out.  Yeah, she kicked it.  It cracked right down the middle.  She had temper tantrums like that.  Really bad ones and the only way to get past them was to wait it out with her in time out, in her room, with us holding the door closed.  Really tight.  Sometimes for a REALLY long time.

When she got older she would stay in her room for time-out, but she would scream bloody murder at the top of her lungs.  Sometimes she would throw stuff at the door or the wall.  Really big stuff cause she was always really strong.  It’s a good thing we live in the boonies because people would have called the cops.  They would have thought we were killing her.  Sometimes I felt like killing her, but I never tried.  Really.  Corey and I would walk to the end of our driveway and wait.  Sometimes for a really long time.

She has always been very persistent.

Our biggest challenge came elementary school. It was a different kind of challenge, though.  McKenna began struggling with crippling anxiety.  There were days she wouldn’t go to school or get on the bus because of the noise.  There were MANY days she would call me with headaches because the anxiety would manifest itself into a migraine.  She didn’t want to leave me at all. (And frankly, some of the school staff were a**holes.  That didn’t help!)  Ultimately, we had to go through tons of testing to make sure she was experiencing anxiety and didn’t have a brain tumor or something else medically wrong.

It was a terrible, horrible time for all of us. And I am thankful I had an understanding employer and a wonderful psychologist friend who snuck us to the top of her therapy list.  Through individual therapy and family therapy, we got through it.

And we learned that McKenna struggles with anxiety.  Once we knew that, we knew how to get through it and life got a little easier.  We had strategies and support.

Over the years, I have viewed that experience as a defining family moment and probably McKenna looks back to see it as helpful as well.  I think she has learned to adapt in her life to see that despite feeling anxious, if she does [whatever she is concerned about] she will get through it and be ok.

She continues to manage the anxiety.  It has bubbled up in pockets.  The fact remains that she is still a teenager and a pretty high-strung one at that.  I haven’t fantasized about kicking her out because life has been perfect.  I mean, she is perfect on the outside.  And sometimes I will share some of our challenges with people who know McKenna and they will be shocked.  She saves her ugly for us because we are the safe space for her. That’s a good thing.

Doesn’t make it any easier for us when the ugly comes out.

After winning the conference softball title

But the fact remains.  For all intents and purposes, my kid is perfect.  It cannot be denied.  She is a gifted athlete—Softball is her sport and last year she won every award in her conference Pitcher of the Year and  Player of the Year.  Then  she was chosen as the top softball player in the state.  Her team won their state championship trophy for the second year in a row.  She is going to college and will play softball at the Division II level and plans to be a Dermatologist.  She plays other sports and excels in those.  She is also an excellent student who ranks 4th in her class.   She has a 4.0 GPA.  She is in National Honor Society.  She volunteers.  She holds down a part-time job and pays for her own gas for her car, all of her own extras like food or fun.  She has never gone to a party.  In fact, her kind of party is to have her friends over HERE to have a fire and play Manhunt on the back lawn.  She has never had a speeding ticket.  Or a detention.

One of her many beautiful senior photos

Oh, and she is beautiful.

And we argue like crazy.  I am the task master.  I make her do her chores, hold her accountable, ask her questions.  And what teenager likes that??  I can’t help it.  I’m the mom and that’s my damn job.  But why is it when I ask her a question she can’t just tell me the answer?   Why do I get snapped at when I ask innocent questions?  Why can’t she just do her chores without me having to nag?  Why can’t she turn off the lights or put away her clothes or pick up her trash?!  Why does it feel like she is only nice to me when she wants something?

Why? Well, she is a teenager for one.  And she is just.like.me.

There.  I said it.

She is just like me.  She looks like me, she acts like me, she gets stressed out like me.  Her baseline disposition is like mine.

Twinsies!

Why is that a problem?  Because most days I have to convince MYSELF to like myself.

So, when she walks in the door demanding someone go outside and plow the driveway cause, hello? It’s snowing!  I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”

Or when she is doing her homework at the dining room table and she insists the entire house be quiet because SHE is trying to concentrate, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”

Ohhhh, I know.  Me.  I remember being that teenager, the strong-minded, verbal, everything revolves around me personality full of emotion and ready to fight.  I remember  expecting everyone to adapt everything they were doing to make my life work.  HELL, I kind of do that now.

When she walks out of the softball dugout, dirty, sunburnt, and pi*sed off because she knows she could have played better and she is crying even though they won the game, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”

Oh, I know.  ME.   Every missed shot or attempt and competitive bone in her body.  I can have experienced it.  It’s why I yell so loudly on the sideline.  Because it’s the only thing I can do now to contribute.  I feel the grit, the sand, the anger when she misses.  I want to kick the dirt, the bag, the chair.  I want to cry with her because I have been there.  I want to yell, “CRY! Go ahead! Jump up and down and scream.  I completely get it.  Kick that glove across the field.  That girl should have totally caught that ball!”

But I can’t, because I am her mother, and being a team player is more important.  Losing with grace is more important.

When she tells me how she spots drivers texting and driving on the highway and purposely drives past them and calls them out  by making the universal sign for “shame on you” with her fingers or how she “mothers” her friends by scolding them on their poor choices.

I know.  Every time I know.  I am there in every moment she is speaking and demanding and mothering everyone.  It is me.   She only got it from me.  I want to say, “You are so right.  They are making poor choices and let’s call their mother.”  Or “Honey, you aren’t their mother and they are going to resent you for trying to be.”

But I can’t, because I am her mother and she needs to learn how to communicate and navigate her relationships.

18-year McKenna doesn’t yet have the life experience of 45-year-old Denise.  Her edges are a little bit sharper. Her tone a little bit tougher.  But that’s ok.  When I was 18, my edges were also sharp.  I learned as she will learn and I grew as she will grow.  All those edges and hard lines will soften. Because one thing she has learned is she can do anything she puts her mind to.  That’s not something I taught her.  That’s a lesson she learned all on her own.

What she doesn’t know is that SHE has been my gift.  Watching her struggle and learn and conquer and become the adult that she is now and will be has been the ride of a lifetime.  Oh, I know I crab and I bitch and I cry about all the things that make me CRAZY, but that’s in the moment.  In the moment, things are different.  In the moment, every edge is sharper.  It is in the moments of reflection that I really appreciate the complexity of McKenna.

from WorDSMITHstudios on Etsy.com

Those who truly love her also appreciate her complexity.

McKenna is perfection.  McKenna wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t all of herself packed into her great big personality.  McKenna is beautiful.  Inside and out.

Yup, I have an 18-year-old.