Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Christmas Resolution

It's the battle of the season: on one team we have Love, Joy, Peace, and great Hope; on the other, Busyness, Stress, Anxiety, and Depression.

I have always adored Christmastime. Historically, I love holiday baking, holiday smells (Christmas trees in particular), holiday lights, holiday movies, and holiday decorations (except those blow-up lawn ornaments which should be banned, obviously). I love Christmas carols - the ones which actually talk about Jesus; I love the advent season in church; I love it when, in fleeting moments, my mind takes hold of Christ's first coming and celebrates. These are all parts of cherished memories of a very happy childhood full of happy Christmases.

But then came adulthood, and with it a large dose of sadness, and in-laws. Christmas changed.

The sadness relates mostly to my dad's death (but also partially to my own skepticism and realizing that people aren't very nice on the inside). Dad loved Christmas too, I'm pretty sure. Every year I would help him put up our outdoor lights around the eaves of the house. He'd take us driving some nights into neighborhoods, on the way home, just to look at the lights on other people's houses.

Most years, we would drive up to the woods to chop down a gigantic Noble fir to haul home. It was usually a couple feet too big, even for the vaulted ceiling in the living room. Dad liked to take time with decorating the tree; he was so patient and careful with checking the strings of lights, then winding them in and out, then he'd painstakingly drape beads in scallops along the branches. For an outdoorsman, I think it was a bit of heaven for him to have the sight and smell of the forest inside our own living room for those few weeks each year.

Dad also made peanut brittle every year. My mom did lots of decorating and baking too, but it was Dad who always had a quiet contentment with these activities. Like, you'd never hear Dad say, "And I've GOT to make the peanut brittle, and put up the lights, and decorate the tree!" in an exasperated tone that made them seem like chores. He just did them, because it was that time of year, and because he liked to.

He was a last-minute shopper, always asking me and my sisters to accompany him to the jewelry store to pick out something for my mom on December 23rd. But it was never panicked; I think he had the task boiled down to its simplest, most genuine gesture: buying something nice for my mom because he loved her. He didn't scour ads for weeks, watch sales, and exhaust all his options. He'd just show up at the store of his choice, with a dollar amount in mind, and buy whatever he thought was pretty.

Christmas will forever have a huge painful hole in it for me, now that Dad is no longer with us. Each year, it lessens as the family grows and adds new members - by birth and by marriage; Christmas changes and so Dad's place in it is not so apparent any more. But it still hurts. And will it ever not?

Secondly (apart from sadness), I mentioned in-laws but not to complain about mine. (In fact, my in-laws do up a great Christmas. My mother-in-law reinstated stockings into my life which hadn't been a part of the Gustafson Christmas at least since the birth of my first niece. The woman is an expert stocking stuffer!) Rather, I just mean that marriage signifies the joining of families, and traditions, and expectations on your time, and the doubling of names on your Christmas list.

The past four Christmases Thom and I were traveling from Illinois and, in a mad frenzy to see and do, we'd hop around to family function after family function trying to please everyone. It got complicated, and less relaxed. Gone were the days when my siblings were all sleeping under one roof, able to stay up until 3am playing games or doing puzzles if we wanted. Instead, Christmas became crowded by schedules and restrictions of time and navigating hurt feelings (whether it was just in our heads or not). We were lucky to get one day with everyone together for a meal.

I certainly don't blame my in-laws for any of that. I just mean to say that, here in adulthood, things are different. This is where Christmas can very easily be crushed by all the complications if you let it. You can turn your heart cold and brace against the onslaught of tasks and demands on your time; you can wait for the whole thing to pass so that you can just go on with your normal life; you can go through the entire season without ever believing that Christ came to save us from this very mess we find ourselves in. I could do that, and I could make it easier on myself, but I don't want to. I want to feel the joy and fear and awe that the shepherds felt on the first Christmas. I want the unnecessary things to fade away and the significant things to shine. And mostly, I want Beatrix to experience Christmas as I did, as pure joy, for as long as possible.

The battle is most assuredly raging on my heart this Christmas. For two straight days this week Busyness, Stress, Anxiety, and Depression had me pinned to the floor, but I think I may have won in the end. This round, anyway. We still have a few more days to go...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shameful Memory #5: Tacky T-Shirt

It's been a while since I've written and, if you were to come inspect my organizational progress over the last month, I would be ashamed to admit there has been very little. Still Bea's closet is overwhelmed with my junk. Still the pile on the table in our bedroom sits untouched. Still the taunting boxes of file folders rest at my feet as I type, with an ever-growing amount of paperwork on top.

I have reasons - excuses - and they are good ones, but I won't bother explaining. Let's just say I've got other demands on my time right now.

However, despite my inability to let go of the tangible cluttering around me, I have more stories to tell, more memories to divulge, more shame to dump out and bury forever. Here's one that came up recently:

I was digging in storage last week for my box of fall decorations (which I never found, by the way - our apartment is going pumpkin- and turkey-less this season, sadly). I did find a box marked "Emily - Clothes" though. Inside were such treasures as the electric blue '80s full-length spandex jumpsuit that my friends gave me as a teenager, the hot pink dress I made for one of the (many) school dances I attended without a date, my old tennis uniform, and about 20 t-shirts from various events, places, and organizations of my past.

I figured the t-shirts were doing no one any good sitting in a box and that I might as well use them as sleepwear, if I never wear them in public. So I unloaded the lot into the laundry basket and they are now filling up an entire drawer of my dresser.

These t-shirts are each a memory in themselves; they represent a time of life for me that I want to remember even though I don't necessarily want to wear something that is men's size XL, roughly the shape of a major appliance, with sleeves that hit about two inches above my wrists. They all have stories, the kinds that tell "I went there" or "I did that".

One shirt in particular, though, tells more than just that story. It's the YHM t-shirt from 2001. YHM (Youth Hostel Ministry) is a program that I participated in while I was a student at Wheaton College. In 2000, I was part of one of the teams that went to Europe and worked in a youth hostel in the Red Light District of Amsterdam for two months. In 2001, I served as the Secretary for the leadership team, helping to train and equip the next year's travelers for their summer abroad.

As part of my duties as Secretary, or because I asked for the responsibility - I can't remember which - I was in charge of designing the t-shirt. Pretty much every organization imaginable on campus had a t-shirt. It was kind of a pain. I mean, as if you needed any more reminders that you came from significantly less money than most of the student body, you'd have to shell out $10 or $12 for a t-shirt every time you turned around even though you'd probably never wear it and it would one day just end up in a box in your storage along with the 20 other t-shirts you accumulated while you were there.

This didn't stop me from relishing my design task. It was so much power: people would be required - at least once when we had to host a chapel service - to wear my t-shirt. I would probably design the coolest t-shirt ever created in the history of campus-organization t-shirts and probably everyone would wear my t-shirt long after it was thread-bare. I was thinking big.

I got too conceptual. See, I had this whole idea about how you go out there [into the world] and your life is on display for everyone to see, you travel, you work, you play, you meet people, you live, and meanwhile all the things you do are speaking the Gospel. I thought of living life "on the air" as in, live from New York, as in everyone's listening, as in, whether we like it or not, we are broadcasting the name of Christ to the world all the time. So I dug up a nice clip art radio tower for the back of the shirt, and a cute little corresponding "ON AIR" tag line for the front. A relevant Psalm 73 verse completed the look. I thought I was very clever.

No one got it. As soon as the t-shirts were distributed, I started getting questions. I had to print up an explanation for the design and hand it out at our next group meeting. That was dismaying for certain, but the really critical thing wasn't my failure to communicate, it was the shirt itself. You see, I couldn't find the exact image of a radio tower that I had in mind. I was picturing something kind of simplistic - that "less is more" kind of thing where a few seemingly careless brush strokes magically form a jovial version of your object of choice.

Just now, I did a search for "radio tower" in MS Clip Art. Apparently, the clip art catalog has expanded dramatically since 2001:

Instead, I chose an image that had six colors. Six filled-in colors that must have been transferred onto the t-shirts via industrial-level paint rollers and were encrusted an eighth of an inch thick, giving the entire backside of the shirt a plasticky, immovable feel to it. I had also opted for long sleeves which, of course, were two inches too short on me. The combination of six printing colors and long sleeves made the shirts cost $18 a piece. People grumbled. I didn't blame them; I didn't even want to own that shirt when I saw it.

So now, it's years later. The shirt is not that bad. It's not a style I'd like to wear, but I doubt that anyone was as critical of how it turned out as I was. Yet I still feel kind of nauseous when I see it. And, like all my other Shameful Memories, it's mostly because of the pride that went before the fall. At least I'm beginning to see the theme. Maybe there is hope for me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"A Confession on Thank Yous" Undo (Again)

Okay, okay. If the last time around didn't do it; this had got to finally cure me of my obsession over tracking thank you notes: yesterday, we received a thank you from our friends who I had previously listed here (but have now deleted).

Written on the outside of the envelope was a note that said the card had been penned a year ago and never mailed, apology for the outdated content, smiley face. Inside was the proof: it was all about how we were moving away from Illinois.

I think a late thank you note is actually much more charming than an expected one!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fight the Hoarding!

A few episodes of Hoarders today made me delve a little deeper into Bea's closet, which is more like the dumping ground for all of my junk. My goodness, what a ridiculous amount of useless things I have kept over the years.

I made a couple important decisions today:

1) I am throwing out all the wedding invitation catalogs that I accumulated while I was toying with the start up of "Emily Blair Designs" back in 2007. And with them go the half-dozen paper sample books that I took from my paper supply store in Illinois. It felt very professional at the time, but I'd be lying if I said I'd looked at any of it even once in the past three years.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not throwing away my hopes of starting up a paper/card-related type of business. It is an ongoing dream of mine, shared with my sister Amy. And maybe I'm just kidding myself here, but I really think we can do it...someday. Anyway, I figure if I ever do get serious about that again, there will be plenty of current invitation catalogs and paper samples to accumulate then.

2) I am throwing out (most) of my clippings from entertainment magazines which included pretty much anything I could find on Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow as a couple, Nicole Kidman in Tom Cruise days, some Mel Gibson, some Harrison Ford. In my sickness (mild hoarding that is), I've convinced myself for now that it's okay to hang onto any Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, or James Dean clippings because they're classic. Oh, and David Duchovny. I have such an extensive collection of X-files related stuff, it's in a different league. I know I will have to throw it out eventually...but not...quite...yet.

Ultimately, I know I am doing the right thing here. Or at least I'm doing a morally neutral thing, but there is still some part of me that is sad because I think that in 30 years it would be really neat-o to look through a bunch of old magazines and when I'm 60 I'll be kicking myself saying, "What I really need right now is a good full-page spread of Brad Pitt from 1997."


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Parenting Thought of the Day

I had a thought yesterday about parenthood, as I often do these days, and I'd like to write it down somewhere. I guess here is as good a place as any.

Allow me to severely preface this thought by saying that I do not think I am any sort of parenting expert just because I have one almost-six-month-old baby. Becoming a parent teaches you a lot; I think I have just barely begun to scratch the surface of how much. However, I don't think that just because I'm a newbie that I can't have one or two valuable thoughts on the subject. Also, I am not turning this into a "mommy blog" where I start posting you recipes for quick dinner casseroles, patterns for making your own organic cotton diaper bag, and tips on grass stain removal.

So, anyway. Here it is:

Parenting is a delicate balance between letting children be the exact age that they are and encouraging them to be older.

It's simple, I know. But that doesn't make it uncomplicated in practice.

Also, I am not trying to limit or define parenting by using the verb "is" here. This is just one aspect of parenting.

Can you tell I'm a little nervous about writing about parenthood? I'll try to get over it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shameful Memory #4: Playground Diva

The other day I was taking a walk outside in the sunshine with Beatrix and I was singing. I was making myself sing to her because I am usually a little reticent to sing aloud, but I think it's nice all the same. I'd like Bea to have fond memories of me, you know, singing in the kitchen while I bake chocolate chip cookies and stuff.

My singing repertoire for the baby is rather sparse. This is mainly due to my bad memory for lyrics. I should say that I can sing along to songs just fine; turn on the radio, it's like I know every word. But if I'm singing on my own, the lyrics just run out of my head. I sing hymns because I usually know the first verse really well. Christmas songs are good too. Most of the time I just end up humming.

The other problem is that I am an alto and I tend to start songs too high. (Secretly I suspect that I have perfect pitch and start them in the correct key, but that's still too high - I can never sing along with them in church either which is why I should really learn to harmonize.) Even some of my favorite hymns I can't pull off without dropping an octave mid-song. That's just not the kind of music lesson I want to give Bea.

So, anyway, the other day, walking and singing. I remembered that I knew this old David Wilcox tune rather well and I began to sing it. Unfortunately, this song comes with some baggage.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my closest girlfriends and I managed to befriend a particular group of boys. It was the hinge to the unfolding of our entire upper-classmen social lives. These boys were football players, and "popular". We were quiet and off the radar, though generally well-liked. The connection was sensational. I mean, we really hit it off. It started with one innocent invitation to hang out, a note on a windshield one afternoon, and suddenly we became one big happy co-ed family.

One day, over summer break or something, we (boys included) were hanging around one of the elementary school playgrounds in that sort of ironic, innocent, photo montage kind of way. Some of my friends were up on the monkey bars, others were going down the slide, I decided to be elusive over on the swingset. As I was swinging, trying to really soak in the beauty of teenage freedom or something as profound, I began to sing. (I was always doing this, posturing melancholy because I thought it seemed romantic.) I was singing "Show the Way" by David Wilcox. It was downright inspirational. You should have been there.

Somewhere around the second verse my good friend Betsy and one of the boys approached me and grabbed their own swings and we all swung together. I didn't stop singing...Why didn't I stop singing? I finished the whole song, chorus, verse, chorus, probably even added in the background vocal parts. And when I was finished, I think I just turned and started talking to my friends like everything was totally normal.

To this day I'm not quite sure what my motivation was. I think that I thought I was being appropriately reflective, possibly evangelistic, and that my friends would benefit by hearing the song. I think that I thought they would admire both my singing voice and my depth of character. As it stands, I actually have no idea what they thought of me, but I am nevertheless humiliated at the memory. I suppose it's fitting to feel humbled when you have undeservedly puffed yourself up.

Let's consider it lesson learned. Now, I just wish I could get that song back without the embarrassment attached. It's a good song. Go listen to it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It Was Just Like a (Really Bad) Movie!

Digging through that box some more, I have found three different dreams that I wrote out. One of them was from October, 1997. The other two were from consecutive nights, June 4th and 5th, in 2008.

I should say that I have very vivid, intense dreams almost every night of the week. On any given morning, I can usually recall what I dreamt about, for the first few hours anyway. I have never regularly journaled my dreams, although I've considered it (at least twice, by the looks of it). Clearly, it has never stuck.

I'm not even sure why I wanted to write these particular dreams down. Perhaps it was just because I remembered so many details upon waking. Their content is certainly not of any lasting value. Somewhere in my narcissism, I have probably believed that I am actually precognitive and wanted it documented somewhere. On occasion, I have had an apocalyptic "vision", one that seems full of depth and divine clarity, with glimpses of judgment and rapture and heaven. You might think these are the sorts of dreams I would write down, but no.

Instead, here's a sampling of what I wrote:


The day I met Andy Garcia

I was sitting in some weird PTA kind of meeting with moms at his house. I look back and see him behind me. At an appropriate time I say, "...It's Andy Garcia." He asked me to come sit with him. He puts his arm around me and I cuddled up to him, but he is old and sort of fat with graying hair...After the meeting I turn to him and say, "So my name's Emily. I am a senior at Canby." There is some confusion here. "I am 20."


I don't understand why I say this. "No, I'm 17. Sorry, I guess I was thinking I was going to turn 20." Ha, ha.

Everyone leaves the meeting and I meet his mom. She is weird and sort of insane. Something goes wrong, like I annoy him or I don't know. He walks outside and I'm like, "I've seen lots of your movies." He doesn't really believe me. I'm like, "I have, about 5 or 6!"

He says, "some movie I can't remember?"

"No." I step through doorway. "But I've seen Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh and I saw When a Man Loves a Woman and watched it repeatedly and Godfather Part III."

Then it was like, 'is that all?' So I'm trying to remember because I know I've seen another one...I hurry trying to figure out the other movie. I ask his sisters (little kids) and they tell me there's a list hanging on the wall. I look and find Untouchables...I walk to him and say, "I just have one word to say to you - Untouchables!"...For some reason this was like all I needed to say to make him warm up to me again but I don't know why. He is beautiful now - not old or fat anymore. We know we can't be together, but it was just happy, innocent love so we part.

My friends all rush up to me but they don't really want to listen to me. I can only say, "It was just like a movie!"


The other two dreams are even more embarrassing because they are about people I actually know. Um, shredder.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

4:20 Redeemed

I recently wrote a post about time in which I said that something has got to give, and it's not the baby. It also shouldn't be reading the Bible. A couple weeks ago, I confessed to Thom that I had only read the Bible on my own (as in apart from reading in church) about three times since Beatrix was born. I am not proud of this.

I've never been particularly disciplined about reading the Bible, partly because I have never been, nor ever will be (from what I can tell), a morning person and somewhere in my Baptist-under-the-name-of-Evangelical-Free-Church upbringing I was made to think that mornings are when you are supposed to read the Bible. Also, it's partly because I'm just lazy. And partly because I don't believe in making "devotional" time into a chore by being legalistic about it. And because I don't like the term "devotional". And also partly because I have a wandering spirit that sometimes doesn't like to hear the truth.

I managed to shake off the morning preconception long ago and in my most habitual times of independent Bible study (which have been lengths of months, even years, but always followed by extended lapses), I read at nighttime. This works out well when you have a regular job and a regular bedtime and you are a night person. It makes having to go to bed earlier than you'd like a little easier because you have in-bed activities to do. (Consequently, some might argue that that's a good transitional activity for morning, but they don't know how much of a morning person I am not.) Right now, however, I'm just home all day and, while I do have a somewhat regular schedule, I'm usually so greedy for sleep by the end of the day (knowing that it will be stolen from me at midnight and again at four by one seemingly innocent little cuddly baby) that I've just let the Bible reading fall by the wayside.

Thom offered to help out. He said that each afternoon, he'd take a break from work and watch Bea for a little while so that I could read the Bible. The next day, right at 4:20pm, he snapped his laptop shut and announced, "Go read your Bible!" I looked at the clock and laughed.

Well, we haven't been quite consistent with it since then, but we're making an effort...and if I could just get it into my groggy head, I am going to try to jump at the chance whenever I see those numbers glowing on one of our many digital clocks. If pot smokers can remember to light up even with significant brain cell loss, I suppose it shouldn't be too difficult for me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"A Confession on Thank Yous" Undo

So...(insert blushing emoticon here)...I got this thank you note in the mail today. It was from one of the weddings I previously included here. I must come clean once again: I have unfairly judged my friend. She had clearly written the note months ago and only just now mailed it to me because she asked me for my address more than once and I kept forgetting to send it to her until last week.

I am such a schmuck. (Insert burying head in the ground emoticon here.)

On Money & Marriage

Last night Thom said to me, after I bungled an online transaction which cost us $60 in return check fees and was becoming hysterical, "Maybe you are supposed to learn that we don't have money because we're careful." He meant that as in we do have money (at least as much as we need) because of another reason, namely God's provision.

That's not something an accountant likes to hear, especially one who prides herself on thoroughness and who doesn't easily let go of her mistakes...but that doesn't make it untrue. I like it when Thom is right about things and says just the exact thing needed to snap me out of one of my moods.

This is why I know marriage is good for me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Time is Not on My Side

I've been thinking a lot about time lately, about how I never have enough of it, it seems. If there's one thing to having a kid, it's that all of a sudden prioritizing tasks becomes absolutely necessary. You might even say it's a priority to prioritize. Now that Beatrix is on a pretty regular schedule, I know exactly how much time I get per day. My to-do list requires about five times that amount of time.

I'm not just complaining here. This isn't just a new parent's rant on "oh, poor me. I have to take care of an adorable little baby all day long and I just don't get the time for video games I deserve." I do feel that way on occasion, but it's silly and I try not to indulge it. Yes, a baby takes up a lot of time and a lot of energy and, on the nights she wakes up every few hours, a lot of the time one normally expect to recover one's energy. But it's also no surprise. This is exactly what I knew I was getting: the whole baby package, as it were.

But even though it's not breaking news (This just in! Babies take up time and make it so you can't get as much done as you'd like!), it is still a challenge. Some days - when my head is clear - I am able to pull it off masterfully: Bea takes a nap and I whisk into uber-productive-mode or else Bea's especially compliant and cheerful and lets me do whatever I want with her. But other days, I feel like I am sleep-walking for the first half and then panicking for the second half (when I realize how little I've been able to get done while sleep-walking). I'll admit it: there are some days when I wish Beatrix would take a twelve hour nap in addition to sleeping twelve hours at nighttime, but only if a twelve hour nap was somehow healthy for her.

The problem is that, while my time is limited, my brain is not and it's running constantly, reminding me of things in life to be done. It's not really the day-to-day stuff that gets me down. I have the privilege of being home all day, so I can pretty well manage household chores and personal hygiene. Not every day, but generally speaking I can. It's more the never-ending list of edifying, life-enriching, holistic leisure activities that I constantly wish I could do, such as cooking, reading, writing (including this blog), corresponding, sewing, paper-crafting, starting my own business, decorating the apartment, playing games, exercising, watching movies, spending time with Thom, listening to music, staying up on new music, looking cute, organizing, spending time with family, reading the Bible, remembering people's birthdays, visiting friends, brushing up on current events, taking an interest in politics, studying French, getting more involved with church, helping the less fortunate, spending time in nature, taking in cultural events around the Northwest, dressing well, photographing, napping, continuing my education, accessorizing, using items from List It and Forget It appropriately, engaging my imagination, and flossing, to name a few. I just never seem to get to them all.

[Please note: You may think this list is exhaustive, but I have managed to cross off a few things in the course of my life, such as painting my nails, getting a tan, and becoming a rockstar.]

The point is that something has got to give. And I know it's not the baby. I've got to let go of some of my own plans, at least for now...but which ones? I keep going back and forth between whether I should let it all go and do whatever I feel like as long as the baby is well-cared for, which I am fairly certain would be to stare at screens and eat fast food most days (but is that really caring well for the baby? oh! the inter-connectivity of it all!), or if I should keep the hope of "the good life" in my mind knowing that I will fail on some points and just agree to not fault myself too harshly for that. Is it better to try the impossible? Or will I necessarily wear myself out? Do I have to just narrow myself down?

My mother-in-law once told me that she loved this time of life that I'm in (having small children) because she knew exactly what was expected of her. I appreciate that. In some sense, it's true for me too. If I give myself up for a whole day just to make Beatrix happy, I've done well. I guess the problem is that I can't help wondering if we'd all be happier if I could do more.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Relief, If Only Brief(ly)

A tiny piece of reconciliation happened last week. It was barely anything at all: a hello from out of the blue, when hope of a hello had long past. But it made my heart drop its burden (at least this particular one) and soar!

I have hope. And maybe a second chance. I want to do good with it. I am determined to approach with caution, and without presumption, but with openness, and mostly with kindness.

Relationships from the past need room to change. We change and grow and we don't like it when other people expect us not to have done so. I want to let people change and grow. Because if, after several years of reflection, I long so much for peace and reconciliation in my life, I should allow that others might as well.

We'll see. It may never go beyond this one hello, but even so, I'll take it. And relax just a little.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shameful Memory #3: Amateur Salad

This post has been removed by the author. So there.

Monday, July 5, 2010

List It and Forget It

Items I am consciously trying to use or use up in order to avoid waste and/or accumulating too much:

- Plastic bags
- Food
- Baby clothes
- Stationery
- Post-its / Notepads
- Books
- Lotion
- Lip gloss / Lip balm
- Soap / Body wash

Addendum 7/9/10:
- Candles

Addendum 8/13/10:
- Coupons

Addendum 9/23/10:
- Gift bags

I list these both as confirmation of my attempts to "lighten up" in the sense of simplifying - i.e. owning less, appreciating my belongings, halting unnecessary consumerism, spending less money - and also to state that these kind of things actually make me feel guilty sometimes. A glimpse of a bottle of lotion given as a stocking stuffer two Christmases ago can sometimes make me feel like a wretch. I think that's wrong. I don't want to feel that way, but I also really want to use the lotion.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Very Timely Facebook Status

Compliments of Molly Patton via Facebook status:
"Bumper sticker of the day: 'Forgiveness: Giving up all hope of a better past'"

Well said.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jane Austen Inspires

"Her mind made up on these several points, and her resolution formed, of always judging and acting in future with the greatest good sense, she had nothing to do but to forgive herself and be happier than ever..."
    -of Catherine, in "Northanger Abbey"

I'd like to live like that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heaviness and the Power of the Paper Shredder

Beatrix is napping and I grabbed the chance to clean out a little more from the box I'm working through. I have a lot of spiral notebooks, legal pads, and loose-leaf notebook paper. Throughout most of my life, I have kept a notebook handy (like in my nightstand) where I can journal or do creative writing when the inspiration hits me. The result is usually a lot of angry emotional ranting and some halfway decent starts to short stories. I keep everything I write. Whatever the quality of the writing, I have this unshakable tendency to consider it sacred because it sprang from my pen, my mind.

I did a lot of such writing directly after college in what I consider to be the most difficult time of my life, just after my dad died. This was an extremely volatile time for me emotionally, not only because of the obvious grieving, but because I made terrible choices about how to cope which included a lot of partying and chasing after boys that didn't deserve to be chased after. In the middle of all of this were two central people: my roommate/best friend at the time and Thom (now husband). Both of them were agents for emotional angst.

Believe it or not, Thom and I had a few setbacks before we finally settled into the blissfully happy couple that we are today. (Joking, but not really.) The start of our relationship was kind of rocky with a lot of "does he like me? doesn't he like me?" happening on my side of things. The difficulty of the whole situation was compounded by loyalty to my roommate who was also going through a hard time of life.

I wrote frustrated pages about giving up on Thom, feeling humiliated and tired of trying. I wrote gushy pages about why Thom was the best thing to ever happen to me. I wrote heartbreaking pages on the deterioration of my relationship with my roommate. I wrote hopeful pages on my resolve to love better.

I have always been particularly reluctant to throw out any of my writing from this era because of its emotional significance to me. It was the most dramatic time of my life and therefore the most likely to make a good story someday, or screenplay. (Joking, but not really.) In fact, the subjects of these same pages are the stuff upon which my aforementioned NaNoWriMo novel was based. The writing is extremely raw and vulnerable and revealing; it really captures the severe highs and lows I was experiencing back then. Unfortunately, it does this so well that whenever I stumble upon pages like these, and read them as I am typically drawn to do, I feel the full weight of the old struggles again. It usually leaves me somewhat nauseous.

This is because not everything from those days ended well. Thom and I ended well, but everyone else has a stain on them now, an incredible blemish, marred and blackened by hurtful actions - some unnecessary, some unavoidable. Most of those relationships were shattered and left in pieces in my memory.

I am not even close to letting go of all of the hurt and fear and regret of those days. Those memories are, hands-down, the ones which beat me up the most. I have sought forgiveness and attempted to right what was wrong on several occasions. I have no doubt that God forgives; I am not as optimistic about the willingness of the people I've hurt to do so. Usually, I just end up regretting my attempts to fix things - I can't seem to stop tripping over myself.

But though I have a ways to go before all of this is behind me, today marks a very significant step forward: I decided to get rid of any of the pages that were negative, either sad, angsty, or angry. I have kept only the happy ones - the ones where I discovered I was in love, the ones where I could see God working despite the disasters around me, the ones where I spoke of hope for the future. Perhaps I'm just the tiniest bit closer to no longer condemning myself for my past life. I am free, in some small way; throwing them out means I no longer need those hurtful memories to define me. I will not wear them as a burden or as a badge of honor.

I ripped out the guilty pages from their spirals with enthusiasm, the edges left jagged. And to cap it off, into the shredder they went, their poisonous words gobbled up to be read and digested no more! Hallelujah! Now let's just hope there is no one digging through the dumpster outside with some scotch tape, an aptitude for jigsaw puzzles, and lots of time on his hands.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Overlooked Invitation

Weddings were apparently a dangerous direction to go because I believe I have opened the floodgates of regret.

Here's just a short one though:

In the stress and busy-ness of wedding planning, I accidentally overlooked inviting the Magill family who went to church with us to our wedding. My husband and I were becoming friends with the family, whose kids were part of our youth group, and I really wanted them to come, especially since the daughter told me (in an unrelated discussion) that she had never been to a wedding before.

We invited all the youth group kids and their parents, but somehow I missed the Magills. Thom even talked to them one Sunday, learned that they hadn't received an invitation yet, and told me about it, but I, in my extreme confidence in my own organizational abilities, dismissed him because I was sure I had sent them one. Later I saw that they weren't even on the invitation list and I still feel awful about it.

I really cannot undo this no matter how many times I go over it. The regret is absolutely futile so why do I keep it?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Confession on Thank Yous

Ok, here's another hang-up I have while we're on the topic of wedding thank yous. It's not a memory, but still something I can't seem to let go of (of which I cannot seem to let go...for you English critics out there). When I was growing up, my mom drilled into me and my siblings the necessity of writing thank you notes whenever we received a gift. Now, I agree this is a nice and polite gesture, but I write thank yous even if I received the gift in the company of the person who gave it to me. That's just overkill, as if the words 'thank you' out of your mouth with probably a smile, other cheerful comments, or expressed enthusiasm is not enough - only the written, formal words will do! But despite my arguments against it, I still comply to this day.

Maybe other people's moms did not put the same emphasis on this when they were children. Lucky them. Writing thank you notes can be a big pain especially, say, after you have already had to go through the difficulty of thinking up nice things to say out loud in a shower situation for all the same gifts. Which makes me wonder what I ended up writing in that thank you note for the teddy bear towels...

Do I sound completely ungrateful here? I don't mean to be. I think it is a good thing to be thankful for gifts you receive (especially when they are from God) and I think it is good to make known that thankfulness, but I do not think it is necessarily a good thing to have inflexible rules for social decorum. As if I need any more help in being a judgmental person.

So there it is. Because I had thank you notes so ingrained in me as a child, I cannot let go of the expectation of it now both for myself and for others, which brings me to the point of this post: in the past few years, I have purchased wedding gifts for a few people who never sent me a thank you note and I think about it way more often than I should.

It's not that I consider them to be bad people for it. In fact, they are all still people I esteem, love, and admire. I don't even think they behaved badly. The real problem is that I am concerned that 1) they may never have received the gift that I bought and/or 2) they didn't properly credit me for giving the gift. It would just be so ironic if I was walking around all this time thinking, "Why didn't they write me a thank you note?" when they are walking around thinking, "Why didn't she buy us a wedding gift?" Other people probably don't think thoughts like that though...

So here they are. The gifts that I can't seem to forget about:

Summer 2005 - Cousin's wedding
I purchased a nice set of bedsheets off of their registry at Bed, Bath and Beyond and had them shipped to the address on file (which must have been correct). Later when I tracked the package, I saw that whoever signed for it was not a name I recognized. Perhaps my cousin's wife lived with a roommate at the time or there was an office that received packages for her building. Or maybe it was delivered to the wrong person who promptly hopped into bed for a cozy nap in some Pure Beech Jersey queen-sized sheets.

Summer 2009 - Friend's wedding
[Deleted due to new information coming to light. I am a schmuck.]

Fall 2009 - Friend's wedding
[Deleted due to new information coming to light. Silly me.]

I realize it is ridiculous to keep this list in my head (especially since while writing this I remembered three more birthday presents in the same category). Most likely the gifts were received, with thanks, and the note was forgotten or never part of the plan. I need to be okay with that. Apparently, I have a hard time doing good without acknowledgment. It's a funny thing too because I received a gift for my wedding that had no card attached and still do not know who gave it to us to this day. Someone out there may very well have me on a list in their head. If I am able to let go of holding other people to the thank you note rule, I hope I can let myself off the hook too:

To whoever gave us the gift of various kitchen items including some sort of utensils, I thank you. And I really mean that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Shameful Memory #2: The Wedding Shower

For an introvert like me, there is nothing more nerve-wracking then having a shower thrown in your honor. Not only are you made to attend a social function where small talk is prevalent, you are the center of that small talk. Gift-opening is particularly bad because you are being watched by dozens of pairs of eyes while you panic to invent clever new ways of saying how much you like each succeeding item you unwrap. I have had the privilege of having seven showers thrown for me, for wedding and baby.

Today I had a flashback to one of my wedding showers. It was thrown by some very lovely and well-meaning women from my home church at the time. So naturally within minutes, I was severely uncomfortable.

One of the gifts came from a friend of the family, a woman about my mother's age: dish towels. I was literally sweating in my anxiety to sound appropriately grateful for the gifts I had opened thus far, but this one proposed an extra challenge: the dish towels were decorated with teddy bears! My mind went blank, I could not think of a single reason why I might want towels with teddy bears on them. I already had plenty of towels and they were the towels I wanted because I had registered for them.

So what did I do? I said (out loud), "Bears!"

The woman who gave the gift looked at me with a startled expression and asked, "Do"

I searched my brain wildly: "Do I like bears?" and determined "Of course not!" And then the real conversational genius broke through - I produced as my reply: "I had a bear blanket when I was little!"

Even at the time I knew that was no kind of response, though it was true. I did own a bear blanket. But why couldn't I just say 'thank you' and move on like a normal person? Sorry, Mrs. C_________, for being socially inept.

I later sold the towels at our moving sale.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Will Never Be a Rockstar

It's fortuitous that my recent resolution to let go of the past has coincided with our move back to the Pacific Northwest from Illinois where my husband and I lived for the last three and a half years. That means that I am now back in close proximity to all my junk, boxes upon boxes of it. I'm a saver.

I am determined to sift through it all now and throw out what is useless, keep only what is meaningful, and scrapbook everything I ever claimed I'd scrapbook. (For the record, I think I'm about 10 scrapbooks behind right now.) It's a slow process, partially because I just had a baby and sorting through boxes isn't my top priority during the day, but mostly because I scrutinize every single scrap of paper. Sometimes it takes me a few passes to determine if something needs to be kept or not. Did I mention I'm a saver?

Well, today I stumbled upon all of my old guitar music. And with this new aim to "let go" in mind, I have ruthlessly dumped the lot.

When I was in high school I decided that I would play the guitar. This was my motivation: I was attracted to guys who played the guitar. Incidentally, this is the same motivation that inspired me to try to learn how to skateboard when I was 22 - bad idea. Somehow I thought that if I was to play the guitar then those guitar-playing males would eventually think I was cool and would ask me out, or at least I'd be a rockstar and have the envy of my peers. I'm glad I never used this logic in my attraction to men's facial hair.

So I learned a lot of chords. I printed dozens of chord sheets and tablature charts off of the internet for songs such as Better Man (Pearl Jam), Crazy on You (Heart), Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Elvis Presley), Waltz #2 (Elliott Smith), Linger (The Cranberries), Spending My Time (Roxette), and What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (REM). I had very eclectic tastes. For most of my college years, I worked steadily at this goal by playing in my free time and entertaining my roommates with folksy sing-alongs. I never had any formal training. It showed.

After college, I met my husband. He wasn't my husband when I first met him; that came later. He played/plays the guitar...a lot better than I do. I haven't even bothered pretending I'm a guitar player since I met him - over six years ago now - which is why I know that I don't need to hold onto these silly little chord progressions sketched out on pink lined stationery with the accompanying lyrics to Morning Has Broken (Cat Stevens) and If I Had a Million Dollars (Barenaked Ladies) and The Great Adventure (Steven Curtis Chapman). Besides, I reached my goal: I married a guitarist. And I'm fairly certain it wasn't my self-taught campfire style that clinched it either.

Still, it was a difficult decision to some degree. There was a voice in my head saying, "What if you want to play songs for Beatrix someday? You'll probably at least need the '90s praise choruses...and the Christmas music...and the Simon & Garfunkel too. You might need the lyrics for Man on the Moon (REM) for a Trivial Pursuit question." But no! I'm not listening to that voice. If I do, at some point later in my life, decide to take up guitar again or play for my kids, I can very well find all the same chords on the internet then. And if I do forget that I ever knew Leaving on a Jet Plane (Peter, Paul & Mary) forward and backward, what's the harm? So, goodbye, guitar-playing dreams of have been released.

In the same box I found a few of my own songs that I had written. I have not yet been able to throw them away. I'll leave those for another day, another post.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Shameful Memory #1: An Errant Errand

As I said in my first post, I am trying to let go of things that haunt me. There are a set of memories which are particularly bothersome, ones in which I felt humiliated. These are often not memories of my actual wrong-doing; those events I certainly regret, but usually I deal with them more directly (by confessing, asking forgiveness, seeking reconciliation of some sort). The memories I am talking about have no such resolution. Even so, they are very minor incidents...and some of them happened so many years ago that it is a wonder I remember them at all. For anyone else involved, I am sure they were never even thought of twice, but I can't stop thinking about them. I forget what they all are, but they will come up eventually, triggered by something else in life, and then I will replay them in full detail and feel the same shame as they originally evoked. Often, these memories will cause an outward reaction such as cursing aloud, shuddering, groaning, or burying my head in my hands.

The first of these came to mind while enjoying a pleasant walk outside in the sunshine with my daughter. Out of nowhere, there it was. I could feel the familiar sinking, the dread growing inside. The sequential images flashed in my mind and left me, for probably the hundredth time, feeling like the most ridiculous girl on the planet.

I must have been around 17, old enough to drive and living at home. My mom asked me to take a bag of clothes to some friends of ours; the husband was in need of a suit for a formal function and my mom had offered a few of my dad's things to try. She told me - as I remember it - that "L__________ wants to see if any of these will fit D_________," nothing more specific.

I drove the few miles of country back roads to our friends' house with the garbage bag of clothes sitting on the seat. Upon arriving, I brought the bag to the front door and was greeted by L__________ who invited me inside, gushing with hospitality and friendliness as she always does.

A few very specific things about the scene here: L__________ was in a bathrobe and was acting slightly distracted, I inferred that she was in the middle of getting ready for said formal function; the eldest son of our friends was in the living room near the main entryway, lying on the couch, reclining his head on one hand. L_________ chatted with me for a few minutes, the son joined in the conversation too though he did not rise from his position on the couch. Eventually, L_________ made her excuses and said goodbye because she needed to finish getting ready. Courtesies all around.

While L_________ left the room, I turned to the son and shrugged, laughed nervously, then stated, "Looks like it's going to be awhile." You see, I was under the impression that I was supposed to wait around to find out if the clothes fit or not so that I could bring the remaining items back home. I remember taking off my coat - I was wearing overalls and a long sleeved black and yellow striped shirt, my "bee" shirt - and plopping myself down casually on the couch opposite where the son was lying down. I felt cute; for whatever reason, the overalls and bee shirt did that back then.

Now about the son, B________, as he is called, is about 8 years older than me and - at least at the time - was very good looking. When we were littler, my sisters and I all had crushes on him. So picture that: I am roughly 17, he is roughly 25. We are meeting probably for the first time in several years and the last impression that I have of him is of unrequited childhood affection. This was my chance to talk to an attractive guy and to bridge the gap in our ages by establishing myself as grown-up, therefore nullifying any last impression that he may have had of me. And we did talk, though I have no idea what about.

Inwardly, I was congratulating myself for handling the social situation so well - small talk never was one of my strong points. I remember feeling anxious and wondering how long I would have to wait to get those clothes back so I could make the drive home. After a few minutes, L________ came back into the room. She startled at the sight of me. "You're still here!" she said with surprise.

This is when it hit me. "I thought I was supposed to wait for the clothes," I stammered, understanding immediately that I was in the wrong and that, of course, this was a drop-off-only errand. I made my apologies in haste, not wanting to look back over at the son (still lounging) to expose my embarrassment, and left.

To them both, it was most likely nothing at all. Perhaps they had a chuckle at my expense when the door closed behind me, or maybe L________ mentioned it to my mom later on and laughed then. At the very worst, maybe the son went away thinking, "Boy, that Gustafson girl is weird." But I doubt it. They're nice people, friends of the family, and it was just an honest mistake. People don't generally hold honest mistakes against you. I hold them against myself. Somehow I think I should be above mistakes.

The reason that this memory continues to make me feel humiliated is not because I still have a crush on the son, but it is because - at such a tender age, when self-confidence is already at a low, and the world of the opposite sex is just opening up - I was a fool. A teensy, tiny, barely noticeable fool. I puffed myself up for a moment, just to look silly the next. My anxiety, contrasted with the extreme of his repose, heightened the embarrassment. Most things are more dramatic when you're 17, disappointments in "love" especially.

I'm now 30 which puts this guy around 38. We're both married, we both have children, and our paths are not likely to cross any time soon, if ever again. Even if they did, this incident would have absolutely no bearing on that hypothetical encounter. There is no reason that one momentary embarrassment should have any lasting effect on me. It really is time to let go.

Besides, writing this out makes me realize how much of nothing it was; I don't even think it makes a good story.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Blogs and Letting Go

I think I may be developing an addiction for blogs. Not for blogging, mind you, just for creating blogs. This is the fourth one I have started in the last three months and I have ideas for more.

The thing is that it is really doing a number on my creative self-esteem. I spent three days trying to think up a name for this blog and, once I had a few in mind, I found out that most of them had already been taken. I must have gone through about twenty until I came up with "Wide-eyed Redhead" and, to tell you the truth, I'm not too thrilled with it. But what really got to me in the whole process is that whenever I found out that one of my ideas for names was taken I would, of course, go look at the blog to see who should have dared use my name idea before I had it and, nine times out of ten, it was a blog started at least five years ago with one post on it. And always some really pathetic first post too. One that says something like, "So...I decided to start a blog. My name's Heather. I like horses and water-skiing." So then I started to feel bad, like "I've got the same ideas as these people?".

I mean, poor Heather. She never got up the gumption to get back into it and apparently doesn't realize that several years later someone might be stumbling onto her blog and making fun of her for it. I actually came across one ("Ranting Redhead" maybe) where the author wrote about how she was going through a break-up. It was awful. I have to hope that the reason she never got back to blogging was because the next day she met someone amazing and fell swiftly in love. Otherwise, it's just plain depressing to think about.

Anyway, back to me. My other blogs were created for 1) spiritual pondering, 2) political diatribing, and 3) sharing photos of my beautiful baby girl, Beatrix. The last one is the only one that's really being used. The purpose of this blog is, most simply put, to "let go". None of the above blogs offered a space for me to just write about my thoughts on my own life (like a well-edited diary). And I think it might do me some good to do so.

I recently challenged myself to stop being afraid of the past. Because I really am a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to the past. I am haunted by all sorts of old memories. They appear out of nowhere and petrify me or just make me feel worthless. I want to get them out in the open as a way of freeing myself of them. This worked with the novel that was stuck (think constipated) in my head for years. In 2007, I participated in NaNoWriMo and very roughly and horridly plunked out a semi-autobiographical 50,000-word novel on life in Portland, Oregon at the turn of this century among twenty-somethings. I didn't really finish the novel, but I got enough of it out that I no longer needed to keep it rolling around in my brain. Now whenever I have a fleeting thought about writing that story I just think, "Oh, good. It's already written down. I don't need to think about remembering it anymore."

Here's hoping it'll work this time too.