Survival Guide for Weirdos

 

Weird

Blessed are the weirdos, for they shall something, something… I don’t know, but I bet it’s pretty great.

There are two main things people who know me well will tell you.

I’m weird and I like it.

I’m comfortable with who I am, but I wasn’t always. It was a hard road and I endured quite a bit of bullying and deflated self-worth before I got here.

Lately, several people have asked me how I learned to own, and even embrace, my weirdness. Maybe it won’t all work for you, but this is what worked for me.

Different isn’t bad. It’s just different.

I didn’t know I was weird until I went to elementary school and the other kids told me. Dad used to teach me random words out of the dictionary, so I walked into Kindergarten spouting all those words and the other kids didn’t know what in the world I was talking about. And that didn’t change until I hit middle school.

I wasn’t any good at sports. I didn’t care about New Kids on the Block. I was more interested in dinosaurs than neon slap bracelets, and I couldn’t have cared less about the school’s popularity hierarchy.

I’m also severely lopsided. I’m the sort of person who’s really good at what I’m good at and not at all good at anything else. It was hard being around all those well-balanced kids who might not have excelled in any one area, but they didn’t tank in any areas either.

I was lucky enough to have weird parents. My dad’s overtly weird, while my mom keeps her weird a little more under the radar. But they’re both big dreamers and “creative types”.

My family doesn't build snowmen. We build snow alligator/unicorn/stegosaurus hybrids.

My family doesn’t build snowmen. We build snow alligator/unicorn/stegosaurus hybrids that eat children.

One night, I was really frustrated over cartwheels. I tried harder than anyone in my gymnastics class, but I just couldn’t do them.

Instead of telling me I was actually super awesome at gymnastics (which would have been a lie), my dad sat me down and drew two pie charts. (I told you he’s weird.) One pie was mine and the other pie represented all the other kids. The other kids had a pie that was evenly divided. They had a decent slice for sports. About the same sized slice for math, language skills, art… My pie only had a tiny sliver for sports. Because let’s be honest. I don’t have any talent and there’s no point pretending I do. But I had huge slices in other areas. In the end, both pies were whole pies. They were just divided up differently. And that’s OK. The world needs people who are extra good in specific areas. And you can’t be extra good in all areas. You’d run out of pie and running out of pie is the worst tragedy I can imagine.

It’s OK to be different. It’s even good to be different.

My parents and I had a lot of conversations about that. While they did try to curb some of my quirks (the stuff that was just obnoxious and served absolutely no purpose), they never tried to force me to be “normal” and they never encouraged me to just go with the crowd so I’d fit in. Instead, they encouraged me to find my own way. That wasn’t easy (see the comment about bullies, above), but it was right.

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Some people don’t like me, and that’s OK.

When I say stuff like that, people will usually rush in to say, “Oh, don’t say that!” or “Those people are just missing out.”

Nah. Some people honestly just don’t like me. Sometimes they don’t “get” me or misunderstand me. Sometimes they do understand me, and they still don’t like me. And it’s really OK. It doesn’t make them bad people or anything. I don’t click with every single person I meet either.

The thing about saying, “Not everyone is going to like me, and that’s OK,” is that it frees you up. It gives you permission to stop worrying, “What will the people think?!”

If they aren’t going to like you, no matter what you do, who cares what they think?

Whether people like me or not is more a reflection on them than on me. Maybe their personality just doesn’t mesh well with mine. Maybe their sense of humor is different than mine. It doesn’t automatically mean I’m doing something wrong when someone doesn’t like me.

(Though, let’s be real. If most people don’t like me, maybe I’m a jerk. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though.)

Also, people don’t care about what you’re doing nearly as much as you think they do. They’re all too busy being anxious or embarrassed about their own stuff to put much effort into thinking about whatever you’re anxious or embarrassed about. If you act embarrassed about something, that’s a signal to the people around you that this is something to be embarrassed about. If you don’t act embarrassed, people will usually go along with that signal, and assume it’s not something to be embarrassed about. Really. I’ve done some of the stupidest things, and as long as I shrugged it off and laughed, everyone else went right along with me, whether they were my friends or not. (One time, I spilled an entire mug of coffee on myself during an interview for a job I wasn’t even qualified for. I laughed it off and got the job.)

I was embarrassed to drive the family wagon around in high school. A friend called it a "beast" because it growled going up hill, so I wrote THE BEAST on the back window in shoe polish and started bragging about my car at school. Three kids asked if they could drive THE BEAST around the parking lot. If I'd acted sheepish about it, it could have been a different story.

I was embarrassed to drive the family wagon around in high school. It was pretty beat up. A friend called it a “beast” because it growled going up hill, so I wrote THE BEAST on the back window in shoe polish and started bragging about my car at school. It caught on and kids would stop me in the hall to ask how THE BEAST was doing. Three of them asked if they could drive THE BEAST around the parking lot. If I’d acted sheepish about it, it could have been a different story. When you act like something’s awesome, it becomes awesome.

Here’s a tip: The less you care about what people think of you, the more people tend to be attracted to you. Almost everyone wants to be all indifferent toward other people’s opinions, but most people aren’t. Those people like to hang out around people who don’t care what other people think of them.

It’s OK to Fail

People who are different are so used to being judged that it can make taking a risk extra scary. Not only do you risk failing, but you risk hearing about what a weirdo failure you are from other people.

Years ago, I decided that being labeled a weirdo was a strange sort of gift other people had given me. I’m already a weirdo, so if I fail, how can I be any more of a weirdo than I already am?

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I recently launched a new blog. It’s backdated to the late 90s and written by my teenage self. If that’s not weird, I don’t know what is. And don’t think I didn’t consider what people might think. What a narcissistic thing to do. Who cares about your life, Kristy? Why would she do this instead of saving all this material for a second memoir?

People aren’t always going to understand why I do what I do. I’m not going to let that stop me.

And if I try something and it doesn’t work out, I’ll just try something else. Win or lose, I’m a weirdo anyway.

I know several people who I’d say have “vision”. People who don’t have vision aren’t going to understand people who do. And they often try to box those visionaries in and bring them down. If you have a vision, don’t let them.

Being weird is a gift.

Do you know what’s super rare? The ability to make people feel comfortable around you.

Do you know what makes people feel comfortable? When you’re weirder than they are.

Because, honestly, everyone’s a little weird and everyone feels self-conscious about their own weirdness. When I’m out there, being all weird out in the open, it helps people feel like they can share their own stuff with me. And they can. Because how can the woman who impulsively jumped into a fountain just to make someone laugh, not realizing it was full of really smelly algae that would stain her favorite jeans, judge someone else?

I used to hate my crooked teeth, my ridiculously long arms and legs, and my very Italian nose.

But you know what? Nobody feels comfortable around a perfect person. It’s my imperfections that draw people in. I’d much rather have a warm and friendly smile than a perfect smile. My long limbs are good for a laugh and my big nose is a great bullshit detector.

Use a little common sense when trying to make people feel comfortable.This might be taking things a step too far.

Use a little common sense when trying to make people feel comfortable. This might be taking things a step too far.

I’m Horace Slughorn, except less Slytherin-y.

I’ll be friendly with pretty much anyone who’s willing to tolerate me. I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they aren’t valued or accepted, so unless you’re actually a homicidal stalker, I’ll almost definitely hang out with you.

But I do take a special interest in some people and I try to keep a circle of people around me that I consider exceptional in some way (and a lot of them have no idea how special they are). Some of them are people I can look up to and get advice from (because, hey, I don’t have all this totally figured out either). Some of them are people I want to help in any way I can because I see so much potential in them. I think it’s a real gift to be able to watch someone grow into their strengths.

There are so many amazing weirdos coming up behind me. I can’t wait to see where you all take us.

An Online Conversation With My 17-Year-Old Self

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In 1998—the era of screeching modems and dial-up speeds we thought were lightning fast—I was one of a few people I knew who had a home internet connection and their own website. When Geocities closed down, I thought my teenage website was gone forever, but thanks to Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, it’s still out there, kicking it late-90s style.

I was an opinionated little thing back in the day. (I’m an opinionated big thing these days.) Since I’ve been working on a memoir for the past couple of years, I’ve been super focused on my teenage years. There have been many times I’ve wanted to get my past-self’s attention and set her straight on a few things.

So, let’s do that.

Kristy, we need to talk.

1


OK. First of all, nice Jack Handey reference.

But, honey, you need to go learn about the First Amendment because that’s not what “freedom of speech” means. It doesn’t mean you can say anything you want and nobody can argue with you about it.


2


Just so you know, nineteen years from now, you’re going to feel pretty damn smug about the Y2K scare.

And you remember that research paper you wrote on the Y2K bug for your senior English class? You know all those survivalist websites you read while doing research, and how you thought, “Hey, maybe this information will come in handy someday”? I’m sorry to tell you I’ve never had to help deliver a breach baby, so all those diagrams we saw are just taking up head space. Sorry.


3


You feel like people are kicking you around? Oh, my sweet summer child. You have no idea what’s coming for you next year.

I do like that barking comment. I’d make the same sort of nonsensical comparison between myself and a barking dog, though I have spellcheck so I can spell chihuahua. It only took me three tries to get close enough for the spellchecker to figure out what I was trying to say. Advancements in technology will definitely make your life easier.


4


You know what? I think people are basically good too. (But don’t tell anyone. It’ll hurt my street cred.)


5


Aw, did you really have to take a swipe at organized religion? You do realize you’re a member of a church right now, don’t you? You can be religious and have a personal connection to God, Kristy. I promise.

And I know you’ve heard a lot of noise about those Mary-worshiping Catholics, but they aren’t so bad. Most of them will be pretty nice to you, even when you’re being kind of an asshat.


6


You probably spent it all at the concession stand at the drive-in. Those burgers are the bomb! Well, they were the bomb. Sadly, nothing is the bomb in 2017. It’s a bleak world you live in now.

Also, “Where’d all the money go?” is a question you’ll be asking for the next two decades. Get used to it.


7


Right now, I kind of want to pinch you. I get it. You were told, “Get a degree, and you’ll get a great job!” We were all told that. It’s not your fault you believed it.

You know, ten years from now, you’re going to have a good paying job without a college degree. You’ll still go back to school, which is great, but it wasn’t the degree that got you anywhere. It’ll be your work ethic, willingness to help others, and miming skills that’ll get you ahead. (OK. Maybe not the miming skills. Those haven’t really come in handy yet, but I hold out hope for the future.)


My best advice to you for the future is to settle down a little. Let people disagree with you, and when they do, listen. You don’t have to change your mind, but at least listen.

Learn to be patient. Learn to be humble.

Stick with that frantic writing style you’re starting to develop. It’s the bomb.

You’re a little annoying, but I think you’re going to be OK.

All We Have to Fear is That Dang Hippie Cult

Something horrible happened last night. It’s something I’ve dreaded, but knew I’d eventually have to face. Though, even when we know something’s inevitable it doesn’t make it any less frightening.

I lost a dental filling.

I’ll pause for all the horrified gasps I assume are happening.

Seriously? Nobody gasped? What, are you people made of stone?

Nothing scares me more than the dentist. Back before I knew EDS was a thing, I had my wisdom teeth removed. See, back then, I’d never had dental work done before. I didn’t know that the shots were supposed to completely numb your mouth. And my dentist kept saying, “Oh, that’s just pressure you’re feeling” but a dentist I saw a year later confirmed that, no, I don’t actually numb like a normal person and I had actually felt pain when my teeth were pulled—which isn’t at all traumatic, you know.

Now I’m terrified of the dentist, especially new dentists who never seem to believe me when I tell them I need 5x the shots that a normal person gets (and I still usually feel some degree of pain.) I mean, I’m obviously just a hysterical person with an irrational fear of the drill, right? (Until they give me shots, then poke my gums, and are shocked when I’m all, “Yeah, I totally feel you doing that right now.” They get real apologetic, real quick.)

So, yeah, I’m totally freaked out.

And, yeah, I’m totally going to make a dental appointment anyway.

If I avoided the things I’m afraid of, I’d never do anything at all because I’m scared of everything.

“Come on. Everything?” you ask.

Yes, everything.

I hate banks because I find the tall counters intimidating.

I rarely talk on the phone because I just know I’ll somehow offend the person on the other end since they can’t read my body language.

I don’t like driving down dirt roads at night because what if something or someone jumps out of the woods in front of my car and I have to brake quickly and then I’m kidnapped and brainwashed into some hippie cult? (Well, a hippier-than-liberal-Mennonites cult.)

I worry about the potential backlash over writing my memoir. I mean, “good writing” is such a subjective thing. Not everyone is going to get why I’m doing things the way I’m doing them, and honestly it’s going to piss some people off no matter how gently I handle those events. (Some people are going to get their knickers in a knot. It’s just going to happen.)

Credit: I-5 Design & Manufacture

What I assume hell looks like.    (Credit: I-5 Design & Manufacture)

But that doesn’t mean I never go into the bank or I never talk on the phone or I’m going to stop writing. (I do try to avoid driving at night, but that’s more about my poor night vision…but also cults.)

If I really need to see the dentist, I’ll choke down my anxiety and go see the dentist. I’ll be having a panic attack the whole time, but you know, I’ll go.

Yes, it’ll be terrible, but it won’t be forever. Sometimes the future benefit outweighs the terror.

Sometimes we have to do things that scare us. People, being people, usually find excuses to avoid doing the things that scare us. But it’s usually something that frightens us that helps us grow.

The scariest thing that ever happened to me wasn’t being stalked. It was leaving my home (admittedly, that was because of the stalker, but still…) I’m the kind of person who likes to have a plan. I need to know what comes next.

Leaving my home yanked the rug out from under me. I had no plan and no clue what I’d do next. All I knew is I was headed north. I had no other plan than that.

It was hard, and it was scary, but it didn’t last. I eventually found my way, and I was a better person in the end.

Sometimes I do things that scare me and it doesn’t work out so well. Sometimes I fail. But failure is still its own form of success. Even though I was afraid, I still tried, and that’s brave. So, even failure’s a victory for bravery—maybe even more so than the times I succeed.

Maybe there’s something you know you should do, but you’re afraid.

I get it. I really do.

But maybe it’s worth running up against your fear. Maybe there’s something awesome on the other side of that anxiety. Let’s face it, a fully functional tooth is pretty awesome.

Funky Caves and Seasonal Depression

I get depressed every year around this time, though I don’t call it a depression. I say “I’m in a weird mood” or “I’m in a funk”.

It generally starts around Halloween and ends sometime in January or February, which really sucks since it stretches out over the entire holiday season. You try hiding out from stressful situations during the holiday season.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Texas and I’ve never psychologically acclimated to the snow and lack of sunlight we get up here in the winter.

Maybe it’s because every Fall I catch the cold that doesn’t end.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had rough Fall/Winter seasons in the past, and I just expect something terrible to happen around this time of year.

All I know is it pops up every year. Some years are easier than others. I had an extra rough time last year.

It’s a good idea to practice some self-care when you know you’re about to head into a depressive season.

So, what am I doing to prepare? Oh, you know, just writing about the most horrible things that have happened to me. Because that’s healthy.

At the beginning of Lent this past year, I decided to write a memoir (I know, it sounds too hoity-toity for me, but it’s basically just a short auto-biography of a specific time in a person’s life). I wrote over 30,000 words during Lent. I wrote every day I could physically write.

I pushed through neck spams, which led to those terrible headaches, which led to sprinting to the bathroom before I threw up on the floor, which led to days spent in bed.

I recklessly pushed through painful memories, which led to me throwing a Bible, and telling my kids I needed to change my shirt so they’d leave me alone in my room for five minutes so I could have a little cry, and calling my sister one night to cry about something that did not affect me at all.

I kept trying to write at the beginning of my kids’ summer break, and I finally snapped. There was no way I could sit in the kitchen and write about receiving death threats while my kids were pestering me for just one more handful of Ruffles. I decided the best way to preserve my sanity was to take the rest of the summer off.

It was such a good move.

In July, I read through what I’d written during Lent. It was just awful. It wasn’t even mediocre. The stuff I’m writing now is mediocre. The stuff from before? That shit was standing in the snow with threadbare mittens, staring in the window, hoping Mediocre would throw it a crust.

I know why it was so terrible. I was stressed out about what the people will think. I was writing too fast. I was pushing myself too hard. I was forcing myself to re-experience all of these emotions I’d spent a good half of my life stamping down. I expected myself to experience a billion different repressed emotions at the same time, and then write something beautiful.

By this time I was way too invested to just give up. So, I decided to completely scrap that first draft and start over.

But, first, I spent August binge-watching Doctor Who because I needed to get out of that pit and breathe for a while.

In the middle of August, I took a break from the Doctor and wrote one chapter of my second draft. This time, instead of starting at the beginning and diving straight into all that unpleasantness, I started at the end. I wrote about where I am now, compared to where I was then. The writing wasn’t great (it was still a first draft of this particular chapter), but holy crap was it better that the stuff I wrote during Lent.

After that, I took the rest of August off. I taught my kids how to play Go Fish and War. Then, I had a long talk with one of them about how to lose without causing a scene.

I wrote another chapter a couple of weeks after school started back up. And another chapter almost a week after that.

Some days, I sit down and I can crank out 3,000 words. Some days, I can handle 100. Some days, I can’t handle any.

I’ve given myself permission not to be a martyr to this project. If I’m not emotionally in a good place one day, I’ll skip writing. Or I’ll write about something else that’s not as emotionally demanding.

During Lent, someone suggested maybe I should stop writing if it was bothering me so much.

The thing is, yes, it bothers me sometimes. Sometimes it makes me feel defeated and traumatized all over again. But, sometimes it makes me feel victorious. Sometimes it feels like a song. Sometimes it feels like giving birth to myself (which honestly strikes me as more than a little creepy, but still). Sometimes it feels like a middle finger to the world, screaming, “You tried to take me down, but I’ll still here, bitch!”

My sister and I went cave exploring a few years ago. We only brought one flashlight with us, and of course, it went out when we were about halfway into the Ape Caves lava tube. Luckily, the tube is just a straight shot in or out, without any side passages to wander down. Writing my story is like that. It’s like walking down a dark tunnel, toward a light I know is there. I just have to move slowly, and try not to trip on my way out.

I think it’s a good idea to keep writing through this season of funk I’m heading into. The pain is going to be there no matter what, but you know what? It feels good to do something productive with the funk.

Maybe I’ll write everything down and just bury it in my drawer. Maybe I’ll try to get it published. I’m not going to worry about that right now. That’s the kind of pressure that helped trip me up last time. For right now, it just feels good be productive and use the pain instead of letting it use me.

Don't worry. We made it out of the cave.

Pictured: People who are not professional spelunkers. (Don’t worry. We made it out of the cave.)

 

I’m Not Special (and neither are you)

I’m not special.

Some people who know me might think that’s a nutty statement. I may not be better than anyone else, but I’m obviously unique, right? Who else is the daughter of a man who was struck by lightning, went on to help hand dig her family’s well, had a pet raccoon, survived a church-stalker who wanted to kill her, and did it all with a rare genetic disorder?

Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing a little off kilter about me, because there totally is. But, there’s nothing about me that hasn’t shown up in some other combination of traits and experiences in other people. Beyond that, even if I’ve experienced some things that most people haven’t, there’s absolutely nothing unique about my reaction to those events.

Love is love. Disappointment is disappointment. Grief is grief.

I was in a funk last Sunday. For the most part, I just sort of drift through life, feeling fine. I don’t sit around all day thinking about how life done me wrong or anything like that. But, every once in a while something happens and it reminds me of something I’ve experienced before and it just suffocates me for a little while. When that happens, I get this crushing sense of loneliness along with the sadness or anger that rears up. It feels like nobody could possibly understand what I feel in those moments.

Which is such bullshit.

Because loss is loss. Pain is pain.

There are some emotional reactions that are nearly universal. In some ways, it almost doesn’t matter what a person has lost or what’s hurt them, because we tend to react in similar ways. Whatever a person has been through might be unique to them, but the idea that any of us are alone in our pain is wrong.

When I was 19 (a year after all that stalking stuff had happened), I met a woman who’d survived a Holocaust work camp. I read her memoir, and if I happened to see her over at my dad’s church, I’d pop in and talk to her for a while.

You’re probably thinking I had this huge epiphany and realized my life hadn’t been so bad, after all. I mean, how can you compare living in a work camp to being stalked by a Grizzly Adams look-a-like? Well, you can’t. You can’t compare pain and loss like that.

What I realized was I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only girl who’d been separated from her home. I wasn’t the only girl who’d lived through fearful, sleepless nights. I never talked to this woman about my own issues. It was still too new of an experience, and I never talked about it back then. It was enough for me to know at least one other person out there “got it”.

A little while later, I met a woman who had lost her parents. My parents were still alive, but we understood one another because we both understood loss. We understood that some days it hits you hard, out of the blue, and squeezes your chest. We understood the pressure people who haven’t experienced a traumatic loss can put on those who have to “buck up” or be inspirational for them. We understood that sometimes you just pretend to be OK. We had two totally different sets of experiences, but the end result of our unique losses was so very much the same.

It’s tempting to think nobody else understands us. That we’re such complicated creatures that nobody could possibly solve our emotional Rubik’s cube. But, really, people aren’t all that complicated.

I’ve met a lot of people since I was 19. Some of them have lived through pain and loss of all sorts of different varieties. The one beautiful thing I’ve found in all of that is we’ve all connected with one another. Someone grew up with abusive parents. Someone has a chronic illness. Someone was severely bullied. Someone lost a parent. Someone lost a child. Someone lost a spouse. Someone lost a church. All different. All painful.

Do you ever get jealous of people who haven’t gone through an ordeal like you have? We understand that.

Do you ever feel guilty because you think maybe, just maybe, if you’d done something differently everything would be different? We understand that.

Do you ever feel alone in your grief, like nobody around you gets it? We understand that.

If you’ve experienced a serious loss, you’re not alone. I know how tempting it is to believe you are, but you aren’t.

You are not alone. You belong to us.

MST3King My Death Threats

(For context, read That Time a Fellow Church Member Wanted to Murder Me.)

My dad’s been cleaning out his garage and we’ve been finding all sorts of things because my parents never get rid of anything. I’ve been having some fun going through old pictures I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. While sorting through pictures two nights ago, I came across some folded up sheets of paper tucked into the box of pictures. I grabbed the stack and unfolded them, figuring it was another poem my sister or I had written for Mother’s Day (there were a lot of Mother’s Day poems in those boxes.)

Instead of a child’s scribbled poem, I was looking at a stack of photocopied Bible pages. I knew what they were right away. I was holding copies of a few of the death threats I’d received 15 years ago.

The first time I’d seen these pages, I was 18. It was just after He Who Must Not Be Named set a fire in my bedroom (I wasn’t home that night.)

The next time I saw these pages was when my father stood in front of our church and projected them on the overhead so the congregation could understand why we were leaving. (It was super fun being a teenager and having my entire church read passages that referred to my breasts and nakedness, let me tell ya.)

People overuse the word “terrified”, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I was terrified the first time I saw these. I fully expected a confrontation was coming and that I probably wouldn’t survive it. It wasn’t a matter of if he got to me, but when and I knew it.

What struck me while re-reading them was how impotent these threats are now. (Yeah. Impotent. I went there.) Because without a group of bystanders standing behind him, he’s just one crazy guy and I’m not afraid of just one crazy guy.

So, what to do with these pages?

I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to make wildly inappropriate comments about them because I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about that.

1O, rly? I’m pretty sure I’m not in your hand right now, dude. A little rusty on the prophecy there, eh?

2Does this sound like a euphemism to anyone else? Was I stalked by the world’s only immortal Onanist?

3“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”  (Deuteronomy 4:2) So, uh, whoops? But, otherwise, it totally makes sense to take scriptures that refer to Jerusalem and apply them to an 18-year-old girl. There’s nothing crazy about that at all.

 4Maybe I like open fields. Maybe I want to sleep on a pillow of bluebonnets and sing Dixie Chicks songs.

5I was well-known for walking around church naked. They called me Nudey McNopants. I still have my name tag.

6Pastor’s daughters are always dodging paparazzi. It’s super obnoxious. Also, I must be the most unsuccessful prostitute of all time. I was broke back then and I’m broke now. What good does walking around naked do me if I’m not even making some coin? Geez.

7Hey, you know what? If I’m a prostitute, it’s a pretty good bet my lovers have already seen me naked (along with everyone else in church, apparently).

8Houses? Plural? He really did think I was a well-paid prostitute. Damn, I should have charged more. I mean, that’s ridiculous. Yeah.

10This is actually You-Know-Who giving my dad parenting advice. I also have a 7 year long gestation period since that’s how long it took me to give birth to my first child.

11More quality parenting advice. If your daughter is a prostitute who isn’t charging for whoring it up and walks around naked for free, you should beat her because that’s just a really stupid business plan.

12Yes, I am totally a “false witness” toward the man who is underlining threats in a Bible and sending them to me. Shame on me.

13…aaaaaand now I have a penis.

I feel better. Being immature usually does it for me.

You know, most people can’t say that someone ever hated them so much they literally wanted them to die in a fire. So, I’ve got that going for me at least.

If you want to satisfy your morbid curiosity (hey, I know I would) the full pages are below. I’ve mentioned the pages before, but seeing them and knowing a fire accompanied their arrival is a lot different than just hearing them mentioned. Again, this is just a small sample of the kinds of things that he left for us to find.

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Excerpt: One Year Later

August 2000

I loll somewhere between bored and buzzed. I’m lounging in the bed of a truck, waiting for Jill. I’m still living in the world of southern August nights, so I hadn’t anticipated the rapid temperature drop. I only have my grey pleather jacket, and it’s not enough.

Later, Jill and her mother will ferry me to a warehouse store to stock up on genuine Up North clothes. They’ll steer me through rows and rows of depressing Carhartts toward the discount hoodies and gloves and hats and no, I can’t imagine I’d ever need snow pants.

But for now, I’m freezing my bony ass off while Jill’s off in the woods with some guy. Meanwhile, I’m in the bed of a truck passing a bottle of Schnapps with her guy’s brother (who keeps bragging about his Britney Spears sunglasses) and a couple of other boys I can’t place.

They tease me for lighting a new cigarette with the end of my old one. I’m a chain smoker, they say. I don’t care. These repetitive actions harness all my nervous energy. Inhale, withdraw, exhale, flick.

I doze off and wake up to someone moving near me. I keep my eyes shut and repeat the mental mantra, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” I’m in the middle of the woods with a girl I met two days ago and a group of drunk boys whose names I didn’t even catch.

There are no safe places. There are no safe people. I already know this.

A coat falls over me and one of the boys moves back to his end of the truck bed. “What?” he asks whoever’s snickering, “She was shaking.”

I pretend to sleep until Jill returns. I’ll cry over this later as I try to process why anyone would give when they could so easily take. And it’s so, so easy to take when everything valuable has already been taken. What do I care if someone scavenges the few crumbs of myself that are scattered in the dirt?

Instead of devouring what little is left, he gives me the coat off his back, which is more kindness than anyone has shown me over the past year.

Jill and I see the boys a few days later on campus. I try to figure out who had covered me up. I don’t have any luck, but whoever it was has earned a loyal friend in me. That’s all it takes to earn my loyalty these days. Just don’t rape me and we’ll be BFFs for life.

 

This is a short excerpt from a work-in-progress. I would appreciate any feedback (positive or negative).

Purpose in Memory

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” – Lois Lowry, The Giver

I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose lately. I believe that everyone has some path in life they’re meant to follow. I can’t even begin to justify my belief and I won’t offer an apologetic for it here. It isn’t a “God has a purpose for you” kind of thing. I’ve always believed this, and I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

All of our lives revolve around a theme. Maybe you call it a passion or a calling, but it’s all the same. When you evaluate your life, what overarching theme do you see?

I always thought my theme was helping others. But, how? I’m not exactly a “people person”. When I laid my life out in front of me and really looked, I saw something different.

I remember. That’s the theme of my life. I remember.

It’s why I’ve always loved genealogy. It’s a little like resurrecting the dead and forgotten.

It’s why I love history, hoard old photos, and can’t get enough of listening to people’s stories.

It’s why I write.

About fourteen years ago I was driving down to Kansas by myself. I stopped at some outlet bookstore and bought several books on tape from the clearance table. The Giver was one of them.

In one scene, Jonas becomes angry with some boys who are playing war. Jonas had just been given the memory of what war had been like. The rest of his community has forgotten. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be hungry or to suffer. In the process of blocking out these memories, they’ve also forgotten how to love.

I’ve gotten some advice over the years from well-meaning people. Forget the past. Live in the present. Focus on the future. Always, always, always march toward the horizon and never look back.

My Facebook feed gets flooded with similar statements in pretty fonts. Forget the bad. Forget what came before. Stop thinking about yesterday and live for today.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we continue moving forward while carrying our memories with us?

I’ve tried to forget. I’ve told myself, “Suck it up, buttercup. Move on.” It was a crime against my own nature. It didn’t work. It left a path of destruction in my life, and I regrettably touched others with some of that. I went around whining, “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing” for years, and I was right. I’d cut myself off from what defines me most.

Forgetting my past didn’t work because there’s no giant eraser we can tackle the past with. Just because you aren’t actively looking at something doesn’t mean it isn’t still there, hovering behind you all the time.

I’m not saying it’s healthy to dwell in the past. But, we don’t have to completely ignore it either. There are lessons to be learned as well as people and events that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I’ll be honest. I was afraid of going back there. OK, so it was more a mix of fear and anger and shame that kept me from looking back for so long. Sometimes we see our past as some labyrinth-like cavern with a creaky sign that says “THE PAST” scrawled out in blood. We don’t want to get lost down those twisting passages, with no light to find our way back out. What if we get stuck down there with the boogeyman of our past emotional states?

When I started spelunking through my life, I expected a difficult trek. And some of it was. But, I came to so many places I’d been afraid of that weren’t nearly as bad as I’d made them out to be. I even found a lot of spots that were pretty fun to climb through and (dare I admit) made me laugh. And in some tight places I found something I really didn’t expect to find buried down there. I found some forgiveness—for others as well as for myself.

Like Jonas’ community, I’d cut myself off from some of the pain, but in doing so I’d cut myself off from all of the good stuff as well. There are some pretty awesome people and memories hiding out in my past, even some pretty great memories of people who hurt me later on. For me, losing all the good isn’t worth being able to block out the bad.

That might not be the case with you. Maybe you’re afraid of climbing around in your own past. I can understand why some people wouldn’t want to risk it. But, you have to understand there’s no such thing as my past and your past. All of our caverns intersect at various points along the way. In many ways, we own a shared past.

So, maybe that’s my purpose. Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to help other people. Maybe I’m supposed to remember some things for all of us. Because none of us should be forgotten. Because we can’t let our communities sacrifice beauty and love to block out our painful memories.

 

The Things We Left Behind

roadWhen we ran away, we did so quickly and in secret. Four people to pack up four years worth of accumulated items. I was only halfway through the boxes in the basement and running out of time. I started grabbing any box labelled “crafts” and upending it into black trash bags. Yarn and craft paper were replaceable.

I rode in the van beside my dog, Little Girl. I had to go along to keep her calm. I patted her and told her she was a good dog. The vet said that he’d keep her in the front for a few days. Maybe someone would come in and want to adopt her. He was just trying to make me feel better about having her put down. We didn’t have time to find a home for her and the shelter was too far away and we didn’t have time.

We couldn’t fit the computer desk in the U-Haul and it was too heavy for us to lift anyway. Dad had built it out of solid doors he’d picked up somewhere when I was six or seven. I used to hang off the side of it and swing my legs. He’d had to round down the corner edges because I kept falling and clunking myself. The desk had followed us everywhere we moved, from Texas to Indiana to Oklahoma to Arkansas—our only constant piece of furniture. We left it in the kitchen.

I’d always wanted to have the kind of home where friends dropped by all the time and felt comfortable just walking in the front door without knocking because, well, we’d grown up together after all. I called one of the best friends I’ve ever had the morning we packed the trailer. “We’re moving to Indiana today.” I didn’t see her again until eight years later when we stopped at a Waffle House in Little Rock on the way to Texas. Aside from a fluke meet-up with another friend in Seattle, I haven’t seen the rest of my friends in fifteen years.

I took a break from loading the trailer and walked next door to the empty church that had been just as much my home as the parsonage had been. I stood in front of the altar, placed my elbows on it, and clasped my hands. Tears hit the lace cover as I prayed for some last minute miracle—the last prayer I would whisper for eleven years.

I drove the van out of town, following behind my parents in the U-Haul. I was irritated. Dad was driving too fast. I wanted to cruise through town slowly; get one last good look at the only place out of all the places that had been home. I didn’t have a choice, so I kept driving.

These three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love.

I thought Paul was a liar that day. I had left them all.

Strong People

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Credit: Herr Olsen

People say I’m strong. Like it’s a rare quality that I have and others don’t.

They say I’m strong because I put my life back together.

They say I’m strong because I still have a sense of humor.

They say I’m strong because I don’t impose my emotions on others.

They say I’m strong because I still believe most people are good-hearted and kind.

I don’t think any of that makes me a strong person.

Some people want to believe that I came through everything undamaged. They want to believe being strong means being unaffected. They’re wrong.

Being strong doesn’t mean you aren’t negatively affected. Being strong means you do what needs to be done anyway, no matter what it costs you.

So, yeah. Sometimes I’ve been strong. Sometimes I’ve counted the cost and done the right thing even when it hurt me. Even when it cost me everything.

That doesn’t mean it was somehow easier for me than it would have been for anyone else. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t hurt or terrified or sobbing the whole time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a strong person. I’ve often excused people in my life with a sad little shake of the head and a comment like, “Well, what can I really expect? He’s not a very strong person.”

But, what’s the difference between me and all the people who’ve passed through my life and been given a pass because they’re not strong?

Nothing.

Strength isn’t innate. It’s not something you either have or don’t have. We’re all capable of making tough decisions. Those choices aren’t somehow easier for so-called “strong” people. It’s just as messy and bloody and heart-breaking as it would be for anyone else.

The only difference between a strong person and a weak person are the choices they make.

Right or wrong?

To hate or to love?

Selfish or sacrificial?

Hey, you.

You’re a strong person.

We’re strong people.

Let’s act like it.