Instrumental: That’s What Friends Are For by Bernie Brown

You can find them online. You can find them offline. In the grocery store. Or living next door.  In a singing club, or a quilting class, or a PTA meeting.

I’m talking about friends. The places they are found are as varied as the friends themselves, who differ in size, color, and adornment like sea shells on the beach. Different as they are, they all have qualities that make you cherish them and grow a little larger in their company.

Friends make you laugh. They may be great joke tellers, chances are they aren’t, but you both see the world through the same crazy pair of glasses. You both thought feng shui was a kind of sushi. And neither of you really get The Onion. You can admit you have liked Barry Manilow all along, and though they might not share your taste, they still like uncool you.

When success comes to you in small or large ways – you lost three pounds or your story won a writing contest—a friend cheers you on. And their good fortune doesn’t diminish yours. With a friend, joy is doubled, and troubles are halved.

They’ve seen you cry and put their arms around you while you dampened the shoulder of their brand new designer sweater. They don’t try to fix whatever is bringing on the water works, they don’t even have to understand why the bad thing is so bad. They are sad because you are. They don’t tell you to “get over it,” they just hang around until you feel better.

Griping! Venting! Sounding off! A friend will let you curse your boss, the government, the traffic. They will let you say the F word and make your ugliest face. And agree, agree, agree. The jerk! The collective stupidity! Insane drivers rule the roadways. They don’t try to get you to see reason.

You can tell a friend your dreams—a year in Paris or visit to the space station— and they won’t laugh at you. You can tell them your most unreasonable fears, and they will tell you theirs.

But sadly, sometimes friendships wither away. There is no animosity,  you just grow in different directions. She wants to run for political office, you want to train to be a yoga instructor. Calls and lunches become less frequent and after awhile, yoga classes fill your days and you’ve made a host of new buds.

At sadder times, a friendship goes bad. You realize this person is trying to hold you back, to undermine your goals. They don’t have your best interests at heart. Worse still, they make you feel bad about yourself with barely concealed remarks, “Oh, you’ll probably never go back to school. It’s just a passing whim. You’d be older than all the others, anyway.” When going back for your master’s is a dream you have always had.

Or you may feel this person is manipulating you. She joins a committee at school and then somehow you find yourself going along because she “needs a friend” and you really, truly hate committee work.

Some friendships just never get off the ground because you discover early on you aren’t going to click. The person is a whiner and whining gets old fast. Or they are a hypochondriac and bring you down. Or they constantly reschedule, throwing your calendar in an uproar and you begin to know they can’t be counted on. Save yourself further pain, and don’t encourage more contact.

But more times than not when you find yourself sitting over coffee, hot chocolate, or a glass of wine, and three hours have passed laughing, confiding, and setting straight the world, and you still have more to say, you are with a friend. You may have to go home and do laundry, but the laughs keep you smiling while you fold towels, the confidences have lightened your secret burdens, and the discussion has broadened your understanding of the world and yourself.

After all, that’s what friends are for.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. My story “The Same Old Casserole” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Modern Creative Life. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. .

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Sunday Sensations: The Power of Relationships

Before I was born my mother and father were sitting in a church service listening to a message about my namesake — Tabitha (Acts 9 if you want to look it up). Tabitha was one of the rare people in the Bible where you meet her after she’s already died. Peter, one of the apostles, goes to a house full of mourning. It seems Tabitha was much loved because she made clothes for widows and orphans. Peter, struck by her compassion and the grief of the people, raises her back to life.

My parents were struck by her story and decided their first female child would be named Tabitha.

In some sense, I’ve always tried to live up to her legacy. This legacy of leaving behind people who love you and who you’ve helped. And, for me, it all starts with cultivating relationships.

I was, like many nerdy kids, pretty lonely growing up. I longed for friends. Thankfully, I had a younger sister who was my constant companion, but I wanted more. I dreamt of friendships like the books I was obsessed with reading. I ached for someone who’d tell me stories and secrets. I was consistently dumbfounded when other people didn’t like me.

Then, when I was 12, I discovered the internet.

You have to understand that the internet to me will always be this Narnia of a place. Here I could type in things I loved (mystery novels) and find people who liked the same things as I did. It was magical. Suddenly, the world was open for me to find people who liked me for who I was — not because they were in the same age group at church.

I met my first internet friend at age 16 (with my parents). I remember buzzing with happiness for days after that. Someone who loved what I loved wanted to spend time with me. I was overwhelmed.

Over the years, I’ve met so many people through the power of social media and the internet. Bounds have formed that have lasted over a decade. The number of close friends I have would boggle the younger version of myself. The internet gave me a tool to find my tribe. To click when I felt anything but clickable.

There’s an energy that happens when you meet someone you can connect with — I call it “soul buzz.” There’s just something secret sauce about the right temperament, mood, mutual loves and energy that connect in a way that proves that human beings are infinitely complex. When you find “the one” — your skin seems to dance with a level of awareness. Yes, yes! I am not alone in my weirdness — this is someone like me.

It’s the main reason I attend comic cons.

While my father is the start of all that is good and geeky in my life, growing up I was still vaguely aware that being bookish and geeky was not “normal.” Nothing drove the point home like the last summer before high school when a table of kids laughed at me for using a four syllable word. I burned with shame.

For most of my life I’m unabashedly geeky, but going to comic cons reminds me that I am not alone. There’s a group of people — many of them professional, amazing, talented, functional people, who love the same things I do and learn the same things I learn through our fandoms.

As I reflect on how happy I am and realize again that relationships are the backbone of life. My husband, my kid, my family, these friends — all of them contribute to my life being wonderful or terrible. As I build this tribe, people who follow and love me no matter what, I realize that was what Tabitha must have been doing — making relationships.

I hope she’d be proud.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

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In Shadows and Sunbeams by Æverett

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

 

I used to just lay in bed for hours listening to music and just daydream.
I miss that.

No, really. That’s how much of my life pre-anxiety happened. Lying still, with all that sound, staring up at the ceiling or my own hands, and thinking.
About everything.
Sometimes, I’d think of nothing and just observe the lines on my palms or the shapes my fingers would make.
More than once, I sat listening for hours and literally watched the sun move across my floor.
And most often I spent those long hours wrapped in the escapist embrace of characters I loved. Walking them through arguments and battles and romances that would never canonically be.

Whole afternoons dedicated to watching the sun move across my floor.

I think these observational stretches made me a more empathetic person. I asked questions of the Universe. I watched Time and learned what pores look like.
It made me a better writer.
Seeing the pace of Time taught me how to stretch it with words. It taught me the impact it can have.
It taught me how to use silence — a lack of dialogue — to an advantage.

There’s profound beauty in stillness, in silence and forgoance of voice. In the sun moving at a slow constant across a wood floor. In gazing up at the ceiling and wondering at the workings of the Universe, of god, of Being.
It teaches listening.
It teaches patience.
It teaches Being.

I see, in those memories, part of myself that has become forgotten and tired and sorely neglected. I have shunned it for doing, for noise, for The Scroll. I have forgotten it’s perfect majesty and pure truth.
And I have suffered for it.
I have burned out and struggled, and I have found chaos where there should be none.

Silence cultivated my creativity into what it Became.
Stillness gave me Myself.
And watching the sun walk across the Sky gave me Time.

 

About the Author: Æverett

ÆverettÆverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.

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Instrumental: Am I Going to Die Alone? by Melissa Cynova

One of the questions that I get most often as a tarot reader is, “Am I going to die alone?” Usually they work up to it, but sometimes it’s right out there.

“Am I going to die alone?”
“Are my cats going to eat me when I die?”
“Did I miss my chance?”
“Is my Person behind me instead of in front of me?”

I used to just answer that question. It’s pretty straightforward. Yes or no? If it was no, don’t worry about it. It’ll happen when it happens. If it was yes, well… I would start asking the person why companionship was the most important thing. They would say a variation of “I just want to be happy.”

And then I would get to the heart of the matter.

“Why do you think that you need someone to be happy?”

Why, indeed.

Next year will be my 30th year playing around with these cards, and I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is to listen for the question under the question. To use the conversation around the question to cultivate (see what I did there?) the conversation and get to the true worry that they’re carrying around.

If we look at ‘Am I going to die alone?”, there a few layers to this.

  1. Am I going to die alone?
  2. Why do I think I need someone to be happy?
  3. Why aren’t I happy right now?
  4. Am I afraid?
  5. Am I going to be ok?

Nearly every reading that I do can be condensed down to that last question. Am I going to be ok?

What this means is that my job as a tarot reader is to be so gentle with my clients. The world is a scary place, sometimes. What this means for my clients is this – ask yourself why you’re asking the question.

Is that the real question, or the surface part?

And as a reminder: you can divine this for yourself by using a pen and your journal. Give it a try by asking each question of and allowing the words to flow from your heart.Allow yourself to go beyond the surface and discover your own real question.

Whatever is pushing it to the surface is your true concern, and the faster you figure out what that is, the faster you can answer it.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa CynovaMelissaC_Bio is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. You can Look for her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, from Llewellyn Publishing.

Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her partner, Joe, and two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

She is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

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Step Garden by John Grey

Photo by Ernest Porzi on UnsplashThe slope is steep but cultivated:
olive and racemose carob trees,
primrose cyclamen nodding at their feet;
at the bottom, lemon trees
sipping tartness from the sea;
farther up, Spanish chestnuts,
fruit rattling in the breeze,
limbs swishing like horse tails.
A narrow trail snakes its way
through thick shadow
to low cut brush
where light bursts large.
My breath scores lemon
and salt and oil and legume.
I walk the length and back again
with you beside me,
like we’re hiking a scented
soft moment in ourselves.
With nervous lips,
I place a hungry garden
on your mouth’s sweet slopes,
for you to prune,
to fertilize.

About the Author: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

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Welcome to Issue #10: Cultivate

Among the many definitions of “cultivate” offered by Webster’s Dictionary are, “to develop or improve by education or training; train; refine,” “to promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.),” “to devote oneself to (an art, science, etc.),” and “to seek to promote or foster (friendship, love, etc.).”

Clearly, cultivation is a versatile concept, one that goes far beyond getting our hands dirty by planting seeds in soil and caring for the resultant sprouts, watching as they grow into flowers, trees, fruit, or vegetables.

And yet, that first, most basic association is no less valid than the abstract uses of the word. We cultivate our arts and sciences in much the same way that we cultivate soil. We foster the growth of our friendships (or, we should) with every bit as much care as we give to plants. We constantly reach, grow, hone, refine, perfect, and protect every aspect of our lives and ourselves.

Welcome to Issue #10 of Modern Creative Life: “Cultivate”

“Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted, creativity grows, and legends bloom; faith in oneself is the rain that cultivates a hero to endure the storm, and bare the genesis of a new world, a new forest.” ― Mike Norton, White Mountain

When we were discussing this year’s themes, we all got excited about the choice of “cultivate” for our spring quarter. After all, most of us do some gardening, and all of us try to keep our artistic selves in a state of growth and tender care.

What could be more perfect, we thought, then to celebrate the many ways we cultivate the various aspects of our lives?

“By looking for the unexpected and discerning the surreptitious features in the scenery within us, we apprehend our personality, find out our identity and learn how to cultivate it. Taking care of our fingerprints will be an enduring endeavor. ( “Looking for the unexpected” )”  ― Erik Pevernagie

What does “cultivate” mean to each of us? What does it mean to you? Can we apply the work we do in backyard gardens or front porch flower pots to art, writing, and music? Can we foster spiritual growth and nurture our bodies the same way we cultivate friendships and enhance our romantic relationships?

Is it possible that a life which is too carefully cultivated can end up being as soggy as an over-watered garden or as parched as desert sands?

Don’t we need to find balance in our cultivation, as we do in all things?

These are the concepts we are exploring in this issue, and we invite you to join us in the experience.

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and essays, as well as all kind of enlightenment, help each of us find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

As always, our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they nurture and tend their own creative life so that they regularly find their process – and lives – feeling nourished instead of parched.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

“Cultivate your craft. Water it daily, pour some tender loving care into it, and watch it grow. Remember that a plant doesn’t sprout immediately. Be patient, and know that in life you will reap what you sow.” ― J.B. McGee

What stories might you have to share with the world? Share the results of your cultivation with us! Don’t be afraid to dig deeply into the fertile soil of experience, memory, and imagination as way, not only to tell your story, but to help others learn from your mental, spiritual, and physical adventures.

We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

—Melissa A. Bartell, Editor at Large

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The Great Escape by Jeanette McGurk

In our house we live with a certain level of spontaneity.  This is partially because of my personality type. “What?  Leave now to see a band 3 hours from us?  Hell yes!” And partially because of my husband’s job.   We joke that he is the cleaner; the guy they bring in when everything else fails.  Right now we are in Germany for 5 weeks because of a project that has gone off the rails.  Riding off the rails was easier to manage when the kids were little.

As they get older, roots and responsibilities stretch themselves around our lives so that we can’t put home on pause anymore.  If we leave, arrangements must be made for Moxie, our fat little tootsie roll of a dog and Mr Farkus, the king of grumpy geriatric cats.

I am a Girl Scout leader.  A few Girl Scout meetings must be managed so 6th graders who are already losing some interest do not lose all interest. And then there is the bit about school.  It is totally frowned upon for 4th and 6th graders to go gallivanting about Germany focused on schnitzel and sledding rather than the common core standard.  In fact, it is easy to justify all the reasons why the girls and I should not be here.

It is expensive, impractical, disruptive, and a bit decadent to put every day life on hold to spend a month hanging out in one of my favorite cities.  On the other side of the argument, my husband is here.  He has been for weeks and weeks.

Not only is it important to rescue him before he goes completely feral, it is better for us as a family to be together.

When John is gone the kids sleep in my bed.  He fusses that I have no boundaries but at 10 and 12, I figure at any moment they will be be over me.  So, I forgo binge watching Black Mirror for Liv and Maddie.  I start off with strict orders of no cookies in bed, only to succumb to cookies in bed which means crumbs in bed.  Next it’s Moxie.  She looks at us with her big brown eyes, and another rule flies out the window, it is now me, the kids, and a 25lb dog with a stink and snore problem.

All that is left to fill the ark is one very old, mean cat who hates the dog, but calls a truce.  Farkus would never allow the dog to one up him.  To be honest, when John travels I suspect he becomes more civilized and we are the ones who go feral.

 

So after some finagling with school and schedules, the kids and I wrap things up and head for Munich.  One would think that 10 and 12 would be a great age to travel with children.  They are older, wiser and can manage their stuff.  All of this is true.

They have also fine tuned their skills on how to annoy one another, and more importantly, me.  Before we even make it through security they are being surly and have started flinging insults.  I am extra crabby because I have discovered the billions of miles and status my husband has on American does not apply to us.   We only get to check 1 bag each.  So, we are each carrying our normal bag plus 3 large duffels, two of which I have been kicking through the security line for 15 minutes.  What I thought had been a lot of time has somehow dwindled down to less than an hour.

The security guy is adamant that my 12 year old remove her hat and clear her hair out of her face so he can compare her passport photo to real her.  She shoots daggers at him from her narrowed eyes.  “Yes,” I want to say, “that cute, sweet, looking girl in that photo is the same child a year ago. Welcome to the tween years.”

We finally make it through security.  Next on the agenda; food.  This is not our first rodeo.  With  11 hours of flying ahead of us, we are going to get hungry.  In fact, we are already hungry.  We had left the fridge as empty as possible before leaving home for 5 weeks and had eaten some stale crackers, cheese and a lone apple before loading into the cab.

As much as we want to like the plane meal three hours from now, it will make our snack look gourmet.  My first inclination is towards the Cantina Laredo 10 steps from our gate.  The girls grimace.  I have been burning them out on Mexican food for the last two weeks.  It is the only thing I miss when we are in Europe, well, that and my mammoth washing machine and dryer.  I try to go into Cantina Laredo when the Hostess stops me.  “Sorry, we are not seating anyone, our computers are down.”  I blink at her stunned.  “Super” I say.  The kids cheer.

I know what this means, pizza.  Parenthood has given me an appreciation for wine and a loathing for pizza.  Every class party, birthday party, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, seems to involve pizza.  I don’t know how my kids can burn out on Mexican food and yet never tire of pizza.

It is one of life’s great mysteries.

We eat our pizza and despite my lack of enthusiasm, it actually hits the spot.  With the hangrys dealt with, we are all much more pleasant.

Boarding starts almost immediately after arriving at the gate.  Whatever I have forgotten to do, we are now committed.  The door closes, the safety info starts and all the over-commitments, under commitments, concerns and stresses fade away.  There is something about being on a plane, the lack of control that I find comforting.

I am fully aware how weird this is.  Perhaps it is because I am so naturally disorganized.

I spend the two days before travel like a chicken with my head chopped off.  Running around, accomplishing nothing.  So when I sit down on the plane, I have at least managed myself and the kids to this point.  The passports obviously weren’t left.  Apparently no one tried to board with a multi-tool.  The large threatening toothpaste had to hit the trash but the crackers Lauren apparently packed herself in my best tupperware were allowed through.

Yes the flight will be cramped and uncomfortable but someone else has to drive.  I can sit, read, watch movies, all while being served tea, cokes or wine if I am so inclined.  Whatever happens, I am not in charge and therefor, I can relax.  It is the time where I transition my brain.  This trip is both escape and homecoming.  It isn’t that I don’t love being at home, I do.  But the chance to explore other places is so delicious.

And to explore as a family is even better.

We skip from Heathrow to Munich.  We snake through the lines to where the customs agent stands.  “How long will you be in Munich?”  “About a month.”  “What brings you here?”  “My husband is here working.”  “Is he in the military?” “No.” He asks where he works. I give more answers.  He looks at the kids, their bears.  “Have a good trip.”  “We will, we love Munich.”

He stamps our passports.  Thunk thunk.  Thunk thunk.  Thunk thunk.  There is the last formality of getting our luggage, which the girls manage all of.  I smile, happy they are showing solid travel legs.

We round the corner and see the tall pale guy we are looking for.  The one smiling at us through the sea of all the other tall pale guys.  There are hugs and cheers and jumping.  My kids are jumpers.  We pile into the tiny European version of an SUV.  Somehow all of us and all our stuff just manages to fit.  We look out at the end of the day and the start of our visit.

Halloo Munchen, we are glad to be here.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

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The Basket by Emma Gazley

Today while the ground was damp
The sky dry
A woman with a red face
Hair in gold strands
Wearing a heavy down coat
Approached me at the store

Asking, Do you have a basket?
She said It is for my flowers
I brought her one and said
If this works for you

Without prelude
Her words unfolded like chairs on a beach

My mother
she said
I consider her a true Christian
She is a different religion than I am now
But she taught me
You must never steal,
Yet it is not stealing
to take a flower
What do we do to make the flowers grow?
We have a seed, but do we grow the root?

No.

My mother said
You must thank the flower and take it
It’s the same with the ocean, you know
Her eyes widened.
You have to thank it before you
She put her hand out, as if to pluck a
Tender pink shell from the sand
Take it

So
She put her bundle of flowers together
I made this bouquet this morning
This is my gift to you.

To me? I said, a hand to my heart
Why me?

Because

You look like a flower.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.

Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

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Meeting My Old Self in the Photo Album by Jeanie Croope

Selfie. The theme of this issue can conjure up many thoughts about the self — inner and outer, good and bad. It was a terrific theme and I confess, a bit of a scary one on which to write. To really look at one’s own self honestly requires a healthy dose of courage and more than a little bit of Kleenex. At least it does for me.

Here on what should be a beautiful April day (but is, in fact, another day where snow and cold is predicted to again hit our Michigan city), the Easter Bunny has come and gone, leaving in its wake leftover jelly beans and chocolate eggs and probably more than a few pounds on my hips. It will require far more work to bid farewell to them than one would like!

A gloomy day like this is perhaps not the best to look deep within oneself, opening that Pandora’s box of faults and foibles. Deadlines don’t care.

My first diet was self-imposed. I was eight and it was post-Halloween. With self control unique for an eight-year-old, I rationed my Halloween candy, piece by piece, limiting myself to three pieces a day. Somewhere between age five and age eight, I had gone from cute, curly-headed girl to a little porkette. To put on my little green tutu with the antler ears for my ballet recital was a memory I’d like to forget. The combination of bad wardrobe, big tummy and an awkwardness that made ballet not my greatest artistic achievement did not lead to a performance I anticipated with great joy.

Throughout the following years, I struggled, as many do, with weight and I do to this day. I wanted to be pretty, like the other girls. My wildly curly hair didn’t allow for the long, straight hairstyle of the day, parted on the side with a strand of hair pulled across the forehead to the opposite side, then tucked neatly behind the ear and hanging below the shoulders. Nor did it work with the shorter chin-length bob with a bit of poof — but not too much poof. Instead, my hair was cut short, the same way it had been since I was — well, eight.

 

On the night of my junior prom, we went to dinner with a group of friends. I was on Weight Watchers so I ate only lettuce from the salad bar. (Weight Watchers was tougher in the late 1960s than it is now.) My boyfriend in senior high, knowing my struggle, gave me a most thoughtful and wonderful gift on Valentine’s Day (and it remains one of my favorites of all time!) — a huge candy box filled with sliced red, yellow and green peppers, carrots and celery sticks. Some would take offense. I was relieved.

The summer before I went to college, my mom made my 18th birthday cake. It was styrofoam, frosted beautifully. But when college came along, with its dorm food, I met the “freshman fifteen.” Then there was the year of apartment living during college — inexpensive pasta and pizza were the two main food groups!

This led to the brewer’s yeast diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet (that was a very bad idea), liquid protein (another bad idea), Dr. Atkins, bingeing and purging (this didn’t last long, fortunately), calorie counting, points counting. You name it.

And the self image continued on its topsy turvy rollercoaster. Round face, big hips, overbite. I thought I looked bad all the time. Every single minute of every single day for decades. And it didn’t matter what anyone else said.

Not all that long ago I was looking at photos taken during my 30s with a friend.  There are three of us, dressed in gowns for an Oscar party, with our friend who was “the producer.”  And we look great. Really terrific. My friend said, “And we thought we were so fat. Wouldn’t we kill to look like that now?”

I had thought that many times.

We do such an number on ourselves, don’t we? Long before the media discovered Photoshop, conveniently removing blemishes and double chins, we were looking at others, trying to see ourselves in them — and failing. Because we were ourselves.

And when I think of me, there was nothing really wrong with that self except some extra pounds, and not even that many. That self had certain talents, some well recognized, the others less obvious but still good. That self I knew had far more kindness to others than to herself. That self could listen to others for hours, could be there when needed but didn’t know how to be there for herself or listen to the positive parts of her inner voice instead of the negative ones.

That self had (and has) grit. She overcame paralyzing shyness, could sing and act on stage, appear on television or speak in front of groups and shake hands with strangers at a public gathering when necessary. That self studied theatre in college and has acted every single day of her life in one way or another, while still doing her best to be her own genuine self — a contradiction, yes, but a truth.

It was no surprise when I took the Myers-Briggs test again, some 20 years after the first time, to find I was still in INFP-T, an introvert who was intuitive, feeling (versus thinking), “prospecting” (or seeking) versus judging and turbulent (emotion-driven) versus judging. That’s the person who could do a meet and greet or work a public event and then return home, mentally exhausted for having been “on” with strangers and the one who hated being a supervisor because making decisions or disciplining others was simply too hurtful.

But there are good things that come of this introspection, some self-realization that is positive. Or, to put it in the words of Oscar Hammerstein in a song from “The King and I,” — “When I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

That porky introvert did learn to mix and mingle; to get up there and tell her story (granted, far easier on a keyboard than at a TEDtalk); to do a multitude of things well (some, very well) and never lost that north star of believing that the feelings and needs of human beings and living things are perhaps more important than anything else in the world. Those crazy, irascible, unpredictable, loving, annoying, cuddly, frustrating, irritating, beautiful, wonderful  creatures.

And sometimes, one of those creatures is one’s own self.

And so, I look at yesterday’s pictures and see something different. Something better than I saw before. And I look at today’s pictures, too.

The hair is still curly and unruly — but most of the time it looks kind of cute (and it’s really easy to take care of). Every five weeks the gray hair at the roots begins to show and I make my faithful visit to the stylist who does her magic. Yes, it’s vain, but I can work with that.

The hips are still too big — and always will be. The thighs don’t always stop moving when I do and I could throttle Michelle Obama for launching the sleeveless craze. The orthotics in my shoes for the heel spurs mean you are less likely to see me in a dress but I still find pretty things I like and I can work with that, too. And thanks to the extra chin (or is it lack of jaw line?) and my overbite, I have learned the best way to look at a camera — and it isn’t profile!

But I still smile. I smile big, I smile happy and I smile because I’m alive in this world and there’s less time that there was a few decades before. There’s less time for all of us, really, because in truth, we never know when our last moment will be. And wouldn’t it be a shame to have it come and realize all those we wasted thinking we weren’t pretty or smart or talented enough when maybe, just maybe, we were?

I will still try to lose some of those extra pounds. And I will succeed — and fail — and succeed again. Because I want to be healthy, not pretty. Someone very wise (sometimes annoyingly so) reminded me — health is the goal.

But life is too short not to travel the world, even if you have bad feet. It’s too short not to take a chance and learn something new, do something unexpected, find light in the dark, conquer your own demons.

And life is too short not to enjoy chocolate eggs or jelly beans every now and then. Because after all, it’s a long way till Halloween.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

At this hour by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

The remembering bones
collect pieces of tales
snippets of song
flashes of color
Gather them deep in the marrow
mix and blend
swirl them through the blood

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

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