Election Day Lessons: Why I Love My Flawed Republic

For those of you who don’t know, we were living in Shanghai for the last year and returned to the U.S 3 short weeks ago. After traveling through Europe for close to six weeks, we repatriated to our home in Detroit. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks balancing the mighty tasks of unpacking 168 boxes, purging all of our worldly possessions, being a parent and spouse, and attempting to feel like a normal human being. Needless to say, I haven’t had the time to sit and write.

In the wake of a Facebook post I wrote, my husband reminded me that I do have a blog and that instead of “wasting” my thoughts on Facebook, I should perhaps approach this as a Naked Writing Post.

So here it is. These are my unedited thoughts on my own election day dread turned excitement.

I have been dreading this day. And when I say dreading, I mean I wish I had been able to stay out of the country a little longer and vote by absentee ballot. The last few days on social media have been especially painful. The hopeful outlook I’ve held regarding a human beings ability to discern truth and maintain a level of integrity have all but vanished.

I awoke this morning, feeling the weight of duty pressing in. I’ve never been less enthusiastic about voting. The once passionate political geek in me appeared to be all but snuffed out.

We left for school, and as we passed by several polling places, an almost giddy excitement came over me. I had to suppress an urge to yell out the window and say “you go!” as I looked at lines emerging from buildings.

The polling places are teeming with voters. The lines are full of people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and religions. I’m standing among a sea of people with amazing stories. There are individuals in line who can trace their family back several generations in the U.S. and have voted in the last 15 elections. There are also people who gave up their citizenship to become American’s a short time ago and are voting for the very first time.

As I thought about these things, it occurred to me just how amazing this all is- this flawed republic of ours. I couldn’t help but reflect on all of the sacrifice that went into creating this nation, and everything that has been fought for to get us to this point.

To think that my right to vote as a white woman was fought for and secured less than 100 years ago is surreal. And as I stand in this space with my black neighbors I am humbled by the realization that they only secured the right to freely and safely exercise the right to vote 51 years ago!

Guys, I am standing with men and women who were not able to vote with their white peers without fear of beating and death, and people who marched during the civil rights era. These people know the weight of what went into securing this right but now stand shoulder to shoulder with individuals of all races casting their votes.

It is a sobering and breathtaking thing to contemplate.

We have come so far in this nation, and while there is much work to be done- this circus will end, and we will soon have a new president-elect. As much as the media, the pundits, and the political machine has taken the wind out of us and made us feel hopeless and divided- let’s not lose sight of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we can go.

Together.

The Ranch (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

It was right around the summer of 1980 and I was about 9 years old. Like every kid, I was looking for something to do to fill my days now that school would be ending for the year. My mother was a full-time working single mom to two and a part-time alcoholic so it meant she would never be around and it was mostly up to me to fill the time. We lived in a small house in the city. There were two apartments on the second story of the house. They had a separate entrance and it was prime people watching for my brother and I to see who was making their way up and down the stairs. The house was bustling with noisy footsteps above, the distant din of voices, music being played, and a healthy infestation of cockroaches. We were keenly aware of the contents of a government food “basket” but we were too young to understand just how on the brink of poverty our family teetered.

We hadn’t lived in the neighborhood that long and we were “that one” family on the block at best; dirty kids, drunken fights at 3 am and an unsavory cast of characters hanging around. Needless to say, I wasn’t overflowing in the friend department.  My mom was married to a nice enough guy but he came with his own laundry list of personal problems so he often didn’t hold down steady work. I recall that at some point in time he bought a tow truck. In the winter he would do tow runs for money and in the summer he mostly laid asphalt but for two summers he took a job as a “ranch hand.” What that essentially entailed was caring for the race horses that they owned. After much begging, and the realization that I would be alone most of the days, he allowed me to come to work with him.

I have no idea how far away this ranch was. We would leave so early in the morning that most of the ride involved me slipping in and out of consciousness as 6 am is an ungodly hour for a human of any age. Even though things often feel exaggerated as a child, it felt really far. I remember the winding dirt roads, the dewy fields of agriculture, and the globs of fluffy white pollen that would eventually dance their way through the open truck windows. The air smelled crisp, bursting with the scents of nature.  After a few twist and turns of the last dirt road…there it was! This spectacularly large, white farm house.  This was the type of house that I had only seen on T.V. I was reminded by Wade, my mom’s husband, that we were there as hired hands. Even as mixed up and crazy as my family was manners were of the utmost importance. Go figure.

The family was nice. While Wade spoke to them I looked past them all to survey the spectacle of wealthy people. The furniture, carpet, everything, it was all just lovely. I remember feeling like I shouldn’t be there and I never wanted to leave all in the same thought. I deduced by some toys scattered around that they probably had kids but I didn’t dare ask. For the first few weeks I worked out in the barn. Frankly, it was fun. The horses were all pretty gentle and the tasks I had involved things like changing their water, bringing them food, brushing them, and cleaning out the stalls. However on a particularly hot day the wife asked if I wanted to come in to cool off with some lemonade in the air conditioning. I was a kid so I would have accepted the offer of lemonade on the surface of the sun! Sitting in their fancy kitchen, I had questions that I dare not ask. I mean after weeks of working there I still hadn’t seen any kids. Even in my 9/10 year old brain I knew something wasn’t right. It’s summer! Shouldn’t there be kids running around outside playing? After my lemonade she asked if I wanted to stay in and play with their son who, “is about your age,” I was slightly disappointed that it was a boy but was happy to have some fun. As I walked down the hallway to his room it started to smell slightly medicinal. She started to gently tell me that her son had MS. I think she could tell by my blank stare that I had no idea what she was talking about. Trying to break it down in simple terms she said, “he can’t walk and play like the other kids but loves to have company.” I was worried about what I just got myself into but it was too late to back out. The next thing I knew we were standing in his doorway.

What I saw next was beyond overwhelming in a good but weird way. Firstly, the kid had every cool toy known to planet Earth! I mean the best of the best. The floor was just littered with what appeared to be all of Toys R Us. I also noticed this strange canvas type swinging basket attached to a small crane. Later he would tell me that it’s a lift for getting him out of bed and into his chair. He was a great kid. Charming, funny, eager to be friends, and again, he had the coolest toy collect EVER!! For whatever reason, even as I child, I was never put off by anyone that had different abilities. I took them as they were. His condition was of no interest to me after that initial battery of grossly inappropriate and invasive questions that all kids ask. We immediately got over the elephant in the room allowing us to move steadfast into playing. That was that. We were fast friends and I looked forward to going with Wade to work for the scent of dewy grass, the giant horses, and my new friend.

We spent the rest of that summer doing what all kids our age do. We watched movies, played with toys, and ate our way through the kitchen. I have never had so many pudding pops in my life! This was before the internet so we didn’t see each other through the fall, winter, and spring. As the days got longer and warmer, I could hardly wait to go back. We arrived back at his house and it was a break from my life. It was a break from being poor, neglected, and having another year of very few friends. It was an oasis from reality.

Once we arrived you could tell he had a really hard year. His body was being further ravaged by his disease and you could see the angst on his parents face. It was palpable. The air hung thick with worry and anxiety. But regardless we played. It’s fortunate that kids aren’t too concerned with limitations when it comes to play. The following summer we didn’t go back and Wade told me that he had died. As a kid, it was impossible to digest but as an adult….wow.

In my little, non-fully formed brain I had always equated money to happiness. That if we had money all of our problems would disappear. We would be happy. The bitter twist of the situation took me decades to digest. You see my family didn’t have money because of the disease of alcoholism (among others) that plagued it and they had all the money in world but couldn’t fix their son. In hindsight, it was one of the most crushing and devastating lessons I learned as a child. I knew first hand that money couldn’t buy what you need most in life.

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Sonya is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur. She loves to cook great food, garden, travel, and has an unhealthy obsession with coffee. Sarcasm and biting humor are her basic modes of conversation. By day she runs a social media marketing company and fills her nights with family, friends, music, and writing.

A Guy Like Me (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

Everyone wants a guy like me

Able to both take and keep the beat
Always rising to my feet
Because everyone wants a guy like me

Welcome wherever I go
Opening doors that appear to be closed
Often seen but never known
Bones left alone to groan

Everyone wants a guy like me
Walking tiresome tread
I can feed your dead
You can park me on the street

A guy like me
With a future for you
And a past that won’t connect
To the things you still flee
Or dreams left by me
In my “wiser” moments of youth

And you
Youth
Yeah you
Oh you…
how could you
Leave and take the best

Still everyone wants a guy like me

1378007_542945099109028_21081406_nPhil Kinney wrote this. He’s a pretty awesome husband and father who loves to write music, make pizza, roast coffee and travel the world. You can find some of his music here: http://thepapersound.bandcamp.com.

How Anonymity Kills Empathy (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

The past few weeks have been an epic example of how the anonymity of the internet can erase the empathy that makes us human.

We saw a mom be questioned whether she was fit to raise children because her precocious preschooler got away from her at the zoo. She literally had to face the fear that she would lose her right to be a mom because the world was outraged that she lost sight of her child for a minute (and really what mom hasn’t blinked and had her kid on the other side of store wreaking havoc). Or how every post in my news feed seems to be filled with politics that have scathing comments that are so very cruel to one another for having different belief systems.

And in the midst of all of this sensationalism on social this week, I had a personal first – being in the national news in my industry. To be honest, I had always hoped that someday I could do something big enough in my career where I could make it into an industry publication. But I knew that the risk of this is also to be exposed to some of the best writers in the world (after all they create ads for a living) to comment on whether I am worthy to be written about. As you can imagine, some of the comments were tough to swallow. I learned that I am not qualified enough and that I was at a “minion” status. But the thing I struggled with the most is that the people who wrote comments have no name, face or accountability for the hurtful or even blatantly false things that they wrote. They have no remorse for damaging reputations (without any proof) or making a comment that cuts to the core and makes you doubt yourself.

I grew up fearful, always wondering if that person talking across the room was really talking about me. I cared too much about what others thought of me and I allowed anxiety and an eating disorder creep into my world as a young teenager. I can’t imagine navigating high school with social media today. I am thankful that during those formative years I had some strong role models step into my life and help me build confidence to try new things and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

So I ask myself now, what is my role in helping to step into this world of insecurity that we call social media and to stand up against the anonymous comments that tear down? How will I communicate with the same empathy from behind a screen as I do face-to-face? How will I equip my daughter to handle the haters in the digital space that will tear down her self-worth as she is trying to find herself? How will my “like” support other women when motherhood is daunting and feels impossible at times? How can my comment empower others to break through the glass ceiling and be moms, wives and working women at the same time?

My goal for the next time I feel the urge to post, comment or like, is to remember to first always be kind and ask, what would I say to this person if I was looking them in the eyes?

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My name is Kari Shimmel. I am a wife, mother, friend, traveler and ad girl. I share stories about travel, parenting and advertising adventures on my blog at upupandaways.com.

Naked Writing Project Guest Post- String of Pearls

I walked into the turquoise painted room, there were cold oysters on the half shell, and fish tacos. I knew I’d love it here. We sit, side by side at the booth, half way down the wall, lined with fish tanks, brimming with fish. The water glistened and scattered sparkles across the walls, ceiling, floor, and on our skin. The fish swing around the tank, showing off their splendor. A small puffer fish looks back at me, eyeball to eyeball. A little starfish clings to the glass. The room felt intoxicating, I had yet to place my order. Somehow, it didn’t even matter, not eating yet; I was already feeling full. He read the menu to me. I asked him to order for me. I’m in hog heaven. He orders wine. Not just any wine, the perfect wine.  I slip the cork in my purse.

He carefully places his napkin in his lap.  I am from the North, transplanted to the South. He was born and raised in the South. We compare our cultures. Mine, a fast paced sense of hurriedness and a keen sense of alertness, and his, recollections of back porch social gatherings and unlocked doors.   The South seems less confusing and more inviting. I feel so blessed to immerse myself in sun kissed days and cool breezy nights. I love the South. While he talks, I make a mental note of the lines across his forehead. His hairline is receding.  I notice the way his teeth show through his moving lips. His hand gestures have an almost feminine quality, but expressive and powerful also. His right eye is a little narrower his left. Light blue eyes, the color of washed dungarees and a little speckled. He is smart. Not just a little smart, but the kind of smart that draws you deeper into the words. I don’t want to miss a thing. His voice has a pleasant cadence. His words flow slowly between his lips articulately, soaked a little like whisky in a slight Southern accent. My only distraction is, I want to kiss those lips. I resist the urge to lean my face into his. I sit, I smile, and I listen.

A box appears on the linen tablecloth. His thick fingers slid the box in my direction. My eyes meet his. He is smiling. The bow is satin and slips off easily with a single pull. Inside is a string of pearls with a gold clasp in the shape of a blooming flower. He helps me put the pearls around my neck. They feel warm next to my skin and their nacre is rich, and iridescently magic. Something so lovely formed from an irritation, and over time, made into something beautiful.

Half way through the meal, I glance at his hands, one of his fingers is a little crooked. He’s perfectly imperfect. I like that he has these little marks from life. I like that he has come to himself and has nothing to prove. He talks about archaeology, war theory, and religion. He is a good storyteller, and a great poet. My heart feels like I am fly-fishing. Casting my emotions out, and reeling them back in.  I tell him one of my favorite quote by John Ruskin “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion all the time.” I have always thought story telling was a gift from God. This is how God speaks to us and stories connect to us and change our DNA.

I think I’m falling in love. This is new to me. Being in love is like creating a parallel universe that will outlast me. Even though my body will experience an end, my love will not. The evening he planned for me will remain in my head and my heart for a very long time.

 

 

PenultimateFullSizeRenderCali is a slipshod writer, bearing witness to a giggling, wild and wonderful life. Cali is a graduate from College for Creative Studies, and finds enduring function and aesthetics pure joy. She is a middle-aged woman warrior. She can usually be found at the gym, sweating, and power lifting. She lives in flip-flops, sundresses, and enjoys a hefty dose of tequila. Whenever she can, she devotes taking her breath away while Stand-Up-Paddle-boarding, (SUP) and attending movies on free days. Everything she does is the right amount of wrong. She is always seeking the “other” conversation. She is attracted to cheerful spheres of truth and muscular points of interest. Not even close to having it all figured out, if she weren’t confused, she’d feel like she wasn’t alive. As for being naked, she lives in central Florida, don’t think about that…oops, too late. You’ve been warned.

How Expectations Crush Creativity

Man I wish I had it more together. I really do.

From today’s helping of the-world-and-all-of-its-expectations-heap, I find myself feeling a bit more disheveled than usual. I’m sitting at the computer; and like my life, more tabs are open than I can manage.

So I turn it all off, feel briefly satisfied with my ability to make a decision, and get in the shower.

The shower has become my safe place. It’s small, I can’t clean anything in it, and it’s the one place I truly cannot be reached in. It’s been the one small constant space in my busy life. It’s a space I’ve cried in, prayed in, cleared my mind in, and even had the occasional cup of coffee or glass of wine in.

I spend a great deal of time sorting through thoughts, emotions, ideas, and plans in this place, but today I feel like all of those things have been put into a blender.

My head is spinning.

I need a rest but if I rest I fear I will drown under an even greater pile of tomorrow.

I know it can all wait. But I don’t believe it.

And so it continues. The swirling and spinning of my mind; the crushing weight of expectation; and the sense that I’m just not doing enough.

It’s never enough. My house could be cleaner. I could be skinnier. My hair could be more manicured. My clothing could be more fashionable. I could be kinder. I could be bolder. I could care more what people think. I could care less what people think.

I could be a better writer. I could have this whole life thing more managed by now. I am going to be forty soon. Doesn’t everyone have it together by forty?

I long to be a better mother, wife, and friend. The weight of limitation weighs heavily.I want to do it all. But I cannot.

Today feels raw and real. Today I am dissatisfied with my dissatisfaction, and the fact that these damned demons have a louder voice than usual.

So I try to focus, I press in, and I ask questions.

And I see that the beauty that is right here; the present- remains somehow out of grasp in this moment of doubt and expectation and not-enough’s.

I get out of the shower, get dressed, and refuse to sit in my office. I go to the kitchen instead and find satisfaction as I bring order to my dishes and create with something other than my mind.

After cleaning and cooking, I settle into the couch feeling a bit more relaxed. I can think and write and breathe a bit more than before.

I’ve regained my writing breath. In and out. Chaos is organized. In and out. The senseless makes sense. In and out.

As I honor the tension and agony- I let go of expectations, fear of imperfection, and the desire to be enough.

In and out.

 

Naked Writing Project:You Can Feel Panic and Thanks at the Same Time: It’s Called Parenting. (Or ‘Panks.’)

There’s this thing where I fear my kids.

My anxiety is so tight around my neck that I can’t really breathe. I can’t catch my breath to attempt to keep up with them. I can’t think because the air is choked off. I holler, the abrupt loud noise all that escapes out the top of that clamp.

I don’t know what to say. They ask. They ask everything of me, and I don’t know how to answer them, how to be what they need. I don’t know how to mom. It’s terrifying. It’s not even ‘what if I fuck it up?’ it’s, ‘how can I less fuck it up today than I did yesterday?’

Nothing is cleaned. The bills aren’t tended to. The kids are never content. The marriage is barely credible. I never commit enough of me to either work or home. I don’t make enough money. But I’m away from the kids too much. I feel judged. And I judge. I can’t sit still because then something is going undone. There’s always the undone. I can’t do it all but I have to do it all but I can’t do it all. I can feel my shoulders hunch and breath quicken. I drink to not feel terrified.

I wanted to be a mom. I wanted it so bad. And we had to work for it. There was waiting that broke my heart, there were pregnancies that ended up in blood and defeat. We’d walk around our neighborhood, trying to talk sense into all our despair, and I had visions of my kid in the sunlight, on a bike, just ahead, just ahead of me. There was such lightness and relief in that vision.

And then I got my kid. He was healthy and wonderful. And rides a bike, in the sunshine, just like I wanted. And then, with not so much as a stutter, he got himself a sister. And we had two kids. And the job. And the house. And the everything I ever thought I wanted. And now two bikes, in the sunshine, just ahead.

But in my bliss, I sweat. Oh, the guilt. The guilt! I have every damned thing in the world and no business feeling anything but happiness with gravy on it. I know moms who had to work WAY harder, who lost WAY more, who had to settle/adjust their dreams in a million different ways. I know of moms whose kids aren’t safe, aren’t fed, aren’t healthy, and can’t ride bikes in the sunshine.

So my malcontent is just me being spoiled and ungrateful. And there’s more guilt about that. There goes those shoulders and that panting, breathlessness again.

The other day all of us were in a grocery store. My husband had the kids in/near the cart and I wandered off to get something. When I came back, I said something to one of them and they didn’t respond and I had the most bizarre thought; what if I imagined all of it? What if this isn’t my family? What if I’m a stranger and they don’t know me? What if I approach them and they shrug me off?

If they’re not mine, but someone else’s, who am I? Where am I? What would I be if the kids and the sunshine had never happened? Would I still be married? Would I have all the time in the world that I don’t have now, to be creative and self-aware, and clean and organized and fit? Would I be all that, or would I be a quiet, sad version of me? If I just picked up my box of wine and walked out of the store alone, where would I be headed? And what of that little family back in there? Who would they be without me?

Icy, lonely. Cold all over. It felt weird and detached, surreal. In that second as I stood there stupidly hugging a carton of orange juice, I felt the gulf of living away from my life. Living another life, a life without my sunshine’s. It didn’t feel like freedom, it felt like loss.

A moment later there was a fat, sticky little hand in mine and I was back in the moment, in the momming. Being needed, and needing them back.

I’m trying to live my life, with these blessings, without the panic. I’m trying. I’m talking and writing about it. I’m trying. Maybe if I share the most ruthless, honest, shitty, terrifying stuff, it will free me from some of that strangling feeling. Maybe other people feel it sometimes, too.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

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Postscript: OK. I followed the rules, I wrote with the flow, pushing my feelings onto the page, and did not edit. Now here’s where I make the curator of this Naked Writing Project let me share my preambles/caveats/apologies for what I wrote. (Ahem)

It’s overwrought and not economical in expressing emotion/It leaves you feeling bad for me and not hopeful for yourselves, that is not my way/Where is the humor to make me sweat less as I share?/My therapist says I hide behind jokes but haha no I don’t, she is/It COMPLETELY disregards my daughter and how incredibly goofy and great she is/It makes both my kids seem like heavy accessories to me and does not give them their own awesome selves and they deserve better/It’s so fucking ungrateful. What is wrong with me?/I’m self-conscious and don’t know if my shallow words, echoing my tepid pain are really worth putting out there into the world/Shallow words? Tepid pain? Good Lord. That’s the kind of flowery malarkey I’m talking about. Sheesh.

Umm. Ok. I think that’s all for now. It’s scary to be naked.
IMG_7168Sarah is a Physician Assistant, a mom, wife, bachelorette party-planner, co-owner of a hippie ice cream shop, and a writer in training. She can usually be found writing dick jokes for sketch comedy or confessing to poor parenting on her blog, http://sarahandrobbbigtrouble.blogspot.com. She is not always naked. Sometimes she wears socks since she lives in the Midwest and it is cold there.