writing past perfectionism (# 56)

I will preface my comments with this: I am a word person, a voracious reader since preschool, an English major, and a holder of a graduate degree in Irish literature. I have steeped myself in words professionally, working as either a writer or an editor for the majority of my adult life.

And yet. . . although reading and writing (for hire) have truly been my life’s work, I have never been more than a dilettante when it comes to writing “my own stuff.” I have entertained several “novel” ideas, but never got them off the ground. By which I mean page one.

Some years ago I embarked on a long-distance love affair that generated more written words than the amount contained in Moby-Dick. Along with a smattering of poems for his reading pleasure. Not sure what I am ever going to do with that hot mess.

I have been reading blogs consistently for about 15 years (!). I started when my firstborn was a baby, and got hooked on the first wave of mom blogs, including Suburban Bliss, Dooce, Sweetney,  Finslippy, Breed ‘Em and Weep, Fussy, Catherine Newman’s blog for ParentCenter. This great, witty writing captured my interest. At the time I did not have a blog of my own. While I enjoyed seeing these life narratives unspool in real-time, I could not quite wrap my head around the idea of airing my thoughts and the details of my life for all the world to read. Instead, I contributed to a group parenting blog called Dot Moms. My bi-monthly pieces were polished, clever, and careful to hew to a chosen theme while giving little personal away.

I was, shall we say, constipated. Plenty confident in my ability to write well, technically speaking, but quickly paralyzed by the inner critic who insisted on editing everything to the hilt on a sentence-by-sentence basis. I had ideas but I could never let truly let them rip. I talked myself out of writing at all, and, if anything started to slip out, I talked myself out of anything I managed to write. Or rewrote it. And rewrote it again.

That whole writing-for-myself thing is settled, then. . . . Bad idea. . . . Now, where did my wine go? You get the picture.

Almost all those mom blogs I used to read have fallen by the wayside, and my blog interests morphed over the years. For a while, there were peak oil and political blogs, later there were 40-something dating/sex blogs. Now, ’tis the season for sober blogs, and for the first time in my bystander relationship with the blogging world, I am wading in.

Again, I am delighted by the variety and thoughtfulness of the perspectives I have found. I am impressed and moved by the sincerity, vulnerability, and quality of the words I read on a daily basis. So much insight, so freely shared.

If I let it, this could paralyze me into thoughts of I’m not original enough, I’m not generous enough, I don’t have anything much to contribute here. My stuff is not going to be perfect. It’s never going to be as good as I think it should be, so why bother. And on and on.

But I am taking a different approach this time. I am not self-editing (well, just a teensy bit). I am not sleeping on any of this. I am just writing what I am thinking about, when I feel like it, and hitting publish. Sometimes, when it has been a while, I remind myself to “feel like it,” because I know that writing, like yoga, can be a practice. You just have to show up and assume a position.

In addition, I want to share something of myself with the world of words online that has provided me with silent enjoyment for so long. I want to add my voice, instead of being a standoffish voyeur. I would love to connect, for a change.

So, here I am trying to find a new path into the vast thicket of possible words I have been hoarding, pruning, or tending on others’ behalf all my life. This blog of mine might be silly, or messy, or trite, or pretentious, or, god forbid, riddled with typos, but it is my attempt to stray beyond the perfectionism and self-inflicted limits that have been penning me in.

This is me, setting myself free.




quiet here at least (# 54)

It has been a peaceful week, mostly. I have stopped perseverating about the job I didn’t get. After talking to husband, therapist, and a friend, I have made a mental shift and decided to focus a little more on making my current (boring) job more interesting. Upon reflection, I can admit that I am a person who is always running off in search of a new challenge and not so good at sticking around, playing a long game, and growing in place. I think it would be good for me to try a different strategy, while I am in this new alcohol free stage of life. So I will take some time to see what develops and make no sudden moves.

I am not eager to be out there applying for more jobs right now. I am feeling bruised and confused. Not sure what I really want from my work life, not sure if I am being proactive or reactive in my search. I need to let everything settle. I will embark on a new job search if/when more clarity about my objectives emerges.

I would like to make more money, but for now I am glad I have a job that is flexible and peaceful. It’s stressful dealing with my teenage daughter. I am having to talk to her dad a lot, and it sometimes eats into work time.

My husband is away on a work trip. Tonight, which is the night before his event starts, two of the people he works with got really drunk. My husband was already up in the hotel room watching Anthony Bourdain episodes and thinking about getting a good night’s sleep when the two guys were brought back to the room flanked by a complement of hotel security. One had a giant bruise on the back of his balding head. My husband had to spend the rest of the evening babysitting them. The one without the bruise attempted to return to the bar, and my husband had to coax him back to the room. These are not young men. They are around 60, a decade older than my husband. They will have to work a long day tomorrow, suffering mightily, I have no doubt.

My own drinking exploits did not sink to that level, at least not recently. I am relieved that my husband has not been in the position of taking care of me in a state like that. However, he has had to shush me from talking loudly a couple of times when walking home through our quiet neighborhood at night. In recent years my drinking was more of a soul-sucking personal preoccupation than a menace to society.

But tonight, I have been reflecting on what an awful position to be in it is, when an unruly drunk (or two!) is holding you hostage. It’s so very unfair to check your sanity  at the door of the bar and leave others to pick up the pieces. I remember that kind of shit happening among my friends when we were in our teens and early twenties. I was guilty of this as well. In one early drinking episode, age 18, camping out one night, I ate nothing but blueberries all day and swigged a bunch of vodka at night. Puked everywhere, and my friends had listen to me, plaintively insisting like a broken record that they make sure to turn my head to one side before leaving me to pass out because “I didn’t want to die like Jimi Hendrix.”

One friend of mine was always getting into this state, and it got tiresome. No one in our group wanted to deal with it anymore. People were tolerant of rare occasions of extreme drunkenness, but reached a limit. With this particular guy, several friends had a little intervention. I don’t remember if it really solved anything about his drinking at the time, but the event did show that people will stop coddling incapacitated people once they are feeling taken advantage of on a regular basis. Easier for friends to draw the line than for relatives or lovers, though.

So I empathize with my husband for having to deal with this tonight, but I am happy he can soon return home to someone he can count on to be responsible for herself, no matter how much alcohol free fun she is having.

facing forward (# 51)

My alcohol free summer has saved me several hundred dollars, at least. I’ve been voraciously buying books for my Kindle, so that has eaten up some of the savings. Then, I started thinking it would be nice to try something new and different.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with my skin. Part of that was because drinking alcohol, the notorious antibeauty serum, was dehydrating me and drying everything out from the inside. Part of it was the fact that my skincare routine has been in the same minimalist rut since my early 20s, when I decided that the best thing to for my skin was pretty much nothing but fingertip scrubbing with shower water and daily application of Oil of Olay for sensitive skin SPF 15. Sure, I would use this or that product from time to time, but I didn’t regularly use anything to cleanse my skin. Benign neglect ruled the day.

Well, over the past few years I started noticing little white bumps, which are called milia, as it turns out. Google revealed that milia result from dead skin cells that get trapped under the skin especially when oils, makeup, moisturizer, and whatever else gradually builds up.  Milia can be avoided pretty easily by regular cleansing and exfoliation.

I disliked the way my skin was starting to look close-up and feel–kind of bumpy all over. There were a few small bumps that seemed permanent, which my doctor identified as a “clear mole” and an “overactive oil gland.” But the rest of the stuff seemed like it didn’t absolutely have to be there. It seemed like there should be a solution.

So I decided to use some of my sober gains to get a facial, something I have not done in about two decades. I told the aesthetician that I had been noticing distressing changes in my skin and I wanted to learn how to face the future and take better care for the long term. I believe this was some of the best money I have spent in a long time.

This woman was a wizard. She confirmed what I had learned about milia, and she told me that it’s okay to take a minimalist approach to skin care but you have to do something to emulsify and wash away that stuff that builds up on the skin. That could be anything from using an oil like coconut or almond oil and rinsing with warm water, to using a cleanser of some sort.

This skin wizard was able to remove most of the milia (you need to get rid of the white bumps sooner rather than later because otherwise they become less encapsulated and more rooted and fibrous, more integrated into the skin). She did such a lovely delicate job that even right after she finished my skin did not look stressed, just a little spotty at the toughest areas. By the next morning, everything looked and felt perfect.

This facial experience was just what I needed. It tangibly improved a situation that had been bothering me. It also felt fitting to use this extra money saved by not drinking on an extra boost for my skin, which has already benefitted considerably from me not drinking. Lastly, I learned new things about how to take care of myself that I can carry forward into the future, clean, clear, and freshly scrubbed.

UPDATE: I am adding a link to an article about skin care products called “essences” that I happened upon today.  I purchased an essence (spray mist) after my facial and I have been using it since, although I didn’t really “get” the purpose of it. This article explains it’s role as a primer for the skin very well and describes how essences have long been a part of Asian beauty rituals. American beauty ritual, by contrast, are far more aggressive, based on stripping skin dry (typically with alcohol-based products) and then slathering on moisturizer. In Asia, it is more typical to prepare skin for moisturizers by moistening it in the first place. In any case, I am pleased to report that my skin is still feeling and looking great with my simple new routine.

not drinking is the easy part (# 50)

This has been the third alcohol free summer of my adult life. The other two occurred when I was pregnant with daughter 1 and daughter 2. I have only had one night of drinking since before Memorial Day. If it weren’t for that, I’d be closing in on 90 days of life without alcohol right now.

Some might find stopping during the holiday season the most difficult, but in the past, the summer has been the season when I have most enjoyed drinking. There are outdoor music festivals in my neighborhood on a weekly basis and many lovely spots to sit and drink outdoors for this relatively fleeting time. Winters are brutal, so these summer evenings are golden.

But here at the 50 day mark, it has become easy to live my summer life with without alcohol. Summer mornings are as golden as summer evenings. I have turned down alcohol in many situations, and I don’t find it difficult to say, “No, thanks.” It feels very clear to me that this alcohol free life is my positive choice for myself. I don’t feel deprived, and I don’t mind a bit if I am going to disappoint someone if I don’t drink. That reaction is truly theirs to own.  Me drinking does not actually have the power to make that person happy, though it might temporarily assuage their feelings about their own drinking. Anyway, I am not interested in overthinking other people’s reactions to my behavior as long as I feel confident, as I do, that I am choosing behaviors that support and satisfy me. That comes first, for me.

So that’s the good news. It’s very, very good news, but this summer has not been The Best Summer Ever. It’s been difficult. Not getting the job I wanted was a source of anxiety and a huge blow to my ego. It has set off a little bit of a professional crisis. My daughter has been an ongoing source of concern. My husband has been dealing with own professional crisis. I’ve been more tearful than usual. There have not been many high-highs and reasons to celebrate.

Last summer was different: I got married in June and had a whirlwind summer that included a road trip with the kids to the Rockies, Yellowstone, and Moab. There was a lot of excitement and adventure, which continued into the winter, when we bought and completely renovated a house.

As amazing as all those things were, it sucked last year to feel alcohol taking up more real estate in my brain. One the one hand I felt delighted to have taken so many massive steps toward the life I wanted, especially on the romantic relationship front, but I worried that my relationship with alcohol was gradually going to make me dull and predictable, stop me from being fully present in many situation, make me less able to cope with the mundane tasks of life, and ultimately render me unable to sustain the focus to pursue bigger goals and dreams.

I am not over the hump yet. To my mind, over the hump would mean using my time more creatively, writing more, making more jewelry. Over the hump would be actively cultivating new or deeper friendships with women who are living creative lives and not interested in numbing their feelings and sitting passively on their good ideas. Over the hump would be finding not just peace in my current (dull) job, but also pursuing ways to make it more interesting, finding ways of advocating for myself and my skills/talents to create a somewhat more interesting role. Over the hump would be developing simple, steady routines of cooking and doing house stuff that keep family life sweetly humming along (instead of erratically cycling from chaotic to caught-up).

I don’t think any of these visions are unrealistic–achieving freedom from alcohol does create conditions where this sort of life can flourish. Right now though, I am simply reading a lot, sticking with yoga and some running. and trying to set and achieve miniature tasks. I deadheaded lilies! I folded some clothes and put them away immediately!

I am still cocooning and, hopefully, readying myself for eventual metamorphosis, a more vivid life.

ancient history, part 2 (# 46)

ancient history, part 1 (# 7) is about the beginning of my first marriage. Part 2 visits my life as a teenage girl and young adult.

The more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are–unwittingly, reflexively, implicitly–convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.

–Leslie Jamison, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

I met Mal thirty years ago. We were high-schoolers from different states, brought together at a semester-long program in yet another state. We became fast friends, sharing interests in Chicago blues, philosophy, Ireland, and, broadly speaking, art and literature of excess (i.e., having sex, drugs and/or rock and roll as major themes). We were attracted to each other intellectually as much or more than physically.

At the school we were “just friends,” and each had other romantic interests. After school ended, though, we stayed in touch and I found ways to incorporate Mal into the rest of my high school life. For example, I went to an all-girls high school, and my group of six close girl friends needed a couple of extra guys to flesh out our prom contingent. Some of these girl friends already knew Mal from the semester program, and, as it turned out, back at his home high school Mal was best friends with a guy, D, who happened to be friends (from summer camp) with my then-boyfriend A and me. So, for this prom, it made a weird sort of sense to rope Mal and D (whom NONE of my girl friends knew) into trekking to our city to serve as the 5th and 6th males of the 12-person prom posse.

My boyfriend A liked Mal, but A was always wary of my connection with him, and rightly so. At the prom afterparty, I recall A barged in and yanked me away from Mal when he thought we were dancing too close. I also recall that Mal had a hard-on while we were dancing, and I liked that.

A and I remained a couple for 6 years–all through college and our first year out, yet intersections with Mal punctuated those years. Mal and I drifted in and out of contact and physically hooked up on three separate occasions. At one point in my last year of college, which was around the dawn of email, Mal and I eagerly adopted the new technology and used it to facilitate an increasing frequent, flirtatious and obsessive correspondence. We were constantly trying to impress each other with our writing and our adventures. We were enthralled by each other’s voice.

My grandmother lived in the same city where Mal was going to college, so for spring break I came up with the brilliant idea for A and I to take the train halfway across the country to visit my her. One night, A and I made plans to go out with Mal, who was by that time an accomplished musician. We showed up at his door with a bottle of Jameson and started drinking. We went out and saw Mal play at a bar, and then proceeded to yet another bar. At some point A abandoned consciousness of the emerging situation and put his head down on the table, while Mal and I kept drinking and talking. We finally cabbed back to Mal’s place, put A to bed and spent what remained of the night making out in the kitchen. We all went out for breakfast together the next morning.

When I was young, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and tumult of my romantic life. All this turmoil gave me endless material to write about, talk about, and process. It made me feel special. Vital.

I believed that “experience” was everything and justified anything. I also revered honesty and believed that it did not matter, so much, what one did, as long as one was honest about it. The problem was that I was not scrupulously honest with myself or anyone else. I was honest enough with A about facts for him to have plenty of reason to be anxious about my love, but not honest enough with him about feelings for us to have a truly intimate relationship.

I was not totally honest with A about the fact that young Miel truly felt that drinking and talking with a guy was the best way to explore potential connection.  Furthermore, in my mind, getting drunk and fucking was the natural consequence of drinking and talking with a person with whom I felt a connection, and this natural consequence, this fated trajectory, this inevitability, was, for me, quite possibly the height of romance (in the doomed sense of the word). I was not honest about the truth that I was willing to trade fidelity for “experience.”

I venerated “experience” but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear there was a numbing predictability about the type of “experience” I preferred to have as a young woman. Intellectual, intoxicated and, ideally, erotic. Mal was not the only guy I got drunk with and fucked in the name of connection, experience, fate, and romance.

The Vicomte de Valmont says in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, “It is beyond my control.” These words, cruel as they were in that story, resonated with me. The concept of being in the grip of forces greater and more powerful than the self. I always felt that stories of fate, or better yet soulmates, were the best ones, even when they were the saddest. Greek plays, the legends of King Arthur and Tristan and Iseult, the novels of Thomas Hardy, Paul Auster.

As a young female drinker, I loved the way alcohol, above all else, could take me beyond control, my small careful sphere, and catapult me into another world of impulse and action, where I could hurtle faster toward my destiny. I craved a potent way to escape my web of constraints so I could find and fulfill my true fate. I guess I didn’t think I could get there without help.

Sometime around 1997 I fell out of touch with Mal for many years. However, as fate or free will  (you can decide later) would have it, that particular book remained open, and I eventually picked it up again.

to be continued . . . 


facing rejection (# 43)

I am now almost certain that I did not get the job I really wanted. Over the last week, as it became apparent that no one was calling me or my references, I started to have moments of intense pain and sadness. I am trying to understand the exact nature of this pain, to wrap my arms around it and define it.

A couple of nights ago I ended up sobbing out my disappointment before bed, in the arms of my husband. It was as ugly as ugly crying gets. Gasping for breath, choking on snot, piles of tissues mounding up beside me. My eyes looked puffy for the whole next day. Among other things, I cried out, more than once. “I am so embarrassed. I am so ashamed.”

This is the second time that I have not gotten a job that a former coworker with my exact same experience has managed to get. This raises powerful feelings of what’s wrong with me, specifically? There must be something wrong with me. What is it? Can I fix it or not? 

I feel embarrassed to ask keep asking my former bosses for references for jobs I don’t ever get. I feel like damaged goods; doomed to be stuck in a job that is dull, boring ,and not well-paying because I can’t interview well enough to get a better job that I am qualified for and could do.

I said before that I felt this particular job might have come up too quickly for me. I wished I had been alcohol free for longer, gotten steadier and more confident. I did the best I could, but fell short of the mark. That leaves me feeling even more anxious about applying for other jobs. About this particular job, I at least felt very secure that I was well qualified. With other jobs, the fit is not likely to be as apparent and as ideal. I will have even more to be anxious about going into other hiring situations.

I don’t know how I will manage the stress and uncertainty of the  job-search process better. How I can arrive at equanimity in the face of my capacity for feeling ashamed.

Who I am so afraid of disappointing? My parents? My former boss? My kids? My friends? My husband. No. Nothing quite makes sense. I am afraid I can’t justify my own choices to myself. That I will never be able to resolve this tension between achievement and falling short. Never resolve the question that maybe I am not doing the right thing, and if I were doing the right thing, I could be both fulfilled and successful at the same time. But what is the Right Thing? And why can’t I figure that out. 

I am still not drinking and very happy with that decision, but, boy, am I raw right now. In the past I probably would have had a lot to drink one night, blown off steam, and moved on fairly quickly from this rejection with a fuck-it attitude. Instead my sad, shamed feelings keep circling around and bubbling up with intrusive regularity, causing me to question, second-guess and bemoan every professional decision I have made in the last 25 years. That is a heavy burden for my soul to carry. My melodramatic tendencies are in full flower. Which means I feel doomed.

On top of the crushed hopes about the job, I am also soaking in the bitter sense that all this “doing my best,” is simply not paying off. I seem to need tangible evidence, “gold stars” of some sort, to feel justified in making the life changes that I have made. I want quicker fixes. I admit that.

A new job, new number on the scale–something! Instead I am feeling so bad. So stuck. Shuffling between a stifling job and home, dealing day in and day out with the steady stream of bad news a difficult teen brings. I rely on yoga, runs and books for temporary anesthesia. My husband is supportive, but also kind of thinks I am not much fun right now.

I am OK, as I knew I would be, no matter what happened. But I’d prefer to be engaged, vibrant and fun.



sheets (# 40)

I am in bed, not quite ready to sleep, enjoying the subtle touch of the sheets against my legs, reading words that maintain a steady march across the page. I am not squinting to still their wobbling. I listen to the purr of the fan and feel its breeze move across my hair. I am fully aware. My senses are fine and sharp, expansive. My consciousness is unmuffled by alcohol. It is not encased in a cottonwool cocoon that extends no more than a few inches beyond my body.

My mind is clear and calm. My mood is even. Soon I will venture into sleep peacefully and with intention. Sleep will not come suddenly tonight, thudding like a stone that ripples outward, obliterating the last few memories of the day. Tomorrow it will be my pleasure to rise at 5:30 a.m. for yoga with firm feet and sweat running clear and pure.