The Familial Glue

There are many reasons that could explain why I have not written since September. Many of them have to do with grad school, many have to do with family, and many, many more have to do with lack of commitment 😉

The simplest one is that I have been writing, just not here.

In December, I turned in a 10,000 manuscript that detailed the relationships and narratives that have shaped my life. “Leaving Lauren: A Scholarly Personal Narrative on Finding my True North” is about autism, love, family, and connecting with people. It is about not being afraid to feel. Not being afraid to ask questions. And most importantly, not being afraid of the answers.

While the writing is about those things, it’s also about how I was, and am still, afraid to feel, afraid to ask questions, and afraid of hearing the answers. But I’m doing those things. I’m living, and loving, and learning and not looking back (for too long, at least).

Recently, SPN writing has become a way for me to be me, even if it’s just in my writing. My upbringing, my family, and my experiences are all parts of stories that come together to form my way of seeing the world. SPN writing proves to me that I am not alone. My story belongs to me, but also to anyone else who will listen. Reading others’ SPNs makes me feel a sense of connection that I value in all arenas of my life. After all, as BrenĂ© Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here, it gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

These are the words that sum up what that 10,000 word experience was for me. My mom and I share a lot in common, but one of the newest ones is our love for BrenĂ© Brown. Mom took an online art class (yeah, technology, man) on “The Gift of Imperfection” and shared with me a lot of the little lessons she learned there. On top of that, my whole family learned to cherish another gift first-hand.

We learned to cherish the ones we love every second of every day.

My brother and his wife’s baby, Daniela, did not live to take her first breath, cry her first tears, or smile her first smile at her parents. But I think Daniela gave them their first breath, their first tears, and their first reason to really smile. My family was able to be there for them at a time that no parent, no sibling, and no friend ever wants their loved one to go through. The timing was perfect though the situation was tragic. The emotions were hard though the love came easy. I have never seen anyone love something so hard as my brother did that week; and despite the heartache and heartbreak of loss, he and his wife will continue to have that love for the rest of their lives.

Being away from them this year has been easier in some ways, but harder in others. I think the easy part comes with the knowledge that I am beginning my job search for my first professional position and am looking primarily in the Pacific Northwest. This means that in a matter of months, I could be as close as down the street and as far as a weekend getaway. My brother and his wife have been the catalyst for me returning to the west coast and my parents deciding to look at housing in the Tacoma/Gig Harbor area. I have always considered myself the glue (or social lubricant) that keeps my family together, but that’s just the ego talking. The real glue is embedded in our upbringing and our values that mom and dad instilled in us. Family. Uncertainty. Love. It’s all there. And we’ll be in it together… even if we’re apart. Because that familial glue of support will never waiver.

Promising to write more soon,
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Bird by Bird

She said to take it “Bird by bird.” Well, she didn’t say it. Her father did. The daunting task of writing a report on birds–the one you’ve known about for three months but just now, the day before it’s due, sat down to write–can be handled simply by doing as Anne Lamott’s father told her brother: “Just take it bird by bird.”

Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”

Despite the fact that I’ve been keeping this blog up and running by intermittent posting and vows to write more regularly since my first two-month hiatus back in 2011, I always forget how much I love writing. I love the way my thoughts quiet down and I’ll ignore the anxiety surrounding any homework assignment or final paper, no matter how many hours I have left to turn it in.

Writing is like running.

“The hardest part is getting out the door.”

Once you leave the door, granted you have on the right footwear, you are that much closer to the end of your mile or your marathon training. Opening up the word document, or grabbing your pencil and your journal, or, if you’re like me, logging into your trendy wordpress.com account is the first and most important step to a solid writing session. Your brain needs the mental exercise of thinking in long sentences, rather than in short bursts of anxiety ridden panics about your daily grind. Your fingers need flexing since your thumbs (from texting so much) have taken over the bulk of your “writing” during the past few days, weeks, or hell, even months sometimes.

My blog is my shitty first draft.

It is my narrative of all things complicated, brilliant, normal, comical, benign, or nagging.

This blog is my report on birds. Due never. And these posts are my way taking it bird by bird. For whenever.

The Puzzle Pieces of My Life: More on Narrative Therapy

My family has always told stories. In my mom’s struggle to get a voice for her fellow nurses, she orated her story of being a nurse for 35 years; she told of the babies she has delivered, the parents she has congratulated, and the couples she has consoled. In my dad’s role as a father, reiterating tales of his youth are few and far between because of the maltreatment he received as a child and young adult. However, he has re-narrated his childhood; he has re-membered it. He turned it from one of abuse and neglect to one of choices to be different from what he knew; choices that he himself will not make and roads that he will not go down.

I stole my theory of life from my sister Lauren. She has Asperger’s, an autism spectrum disorder, and happens to be especially adept at doing puzzles. Lauren can flip the puzzle to its reverse side and complete it only looking at the blank cardboard shapes without the picture to guide her. She is able to see at a glance how each little piece fits into the larger puzzle. Sometimes she does edges first. Sometimes she starts from a random point and works her way out. Sometimes, still, she starts many different areas and in the blink of an eye has found the links that fit them together perfectly. Lauren’s gift with puzzles led me to my life’s theory.

I was about thirteen when I realized that my life was made up of a sequence of events; my life was an unfinished puzzle. All of my stories that I have told are pieces of it that don’t always seem to fit together in the right ways, but, I have reasoned that this is because I still have more pieces to be found, shaped, and created. In this puzzle of life, there are many different ways to look at an event. I could take the single event as an isolated occurrence, or I can, as I so often do, fit the piece into a larger narrative.

This has made sense for many things that have happened in my life. The small routines of playing songs on Grandpa’s jukebox and then towards the end of his life, Grandpa picking his own song on it to which he and my mother danced. Falling in a lake and having a dramatic (not) near-death experience, taking swimming lessons to prevent this from happening again, and then joining the local swim team where I started my stint as the athlete that I would soon become and forever be. Wanting to quit basketball so many times, sticking with it, then quitting in college and feeling lost. Being able to find and join the Crew team where I found my place. Sustaining a career ending back injury, losing crew, having to become just a student again, and then finding the time to be there for the people who needed me most, including myself.

My stories at first are isolated events; individual pieces in my puzzle. Then, later, I contextualize them in the narrative of life. My life. I have the power, like my father, to re-narrate those stories as many times as I would like. I choose to put on a different set of lenses than the first time around when re-looking at a certain piece in my puzzle. I reimagine that piece as the beginning of a different story ending at present day or I fit that piece into the middle of a series of seemingly unrelated, but on second glance perfectly connected, pieces to my puzzle.

We can always re-member what we need to in order to give our lives meaning. A bad day can turn into a learning experience or a laughing matter within just a few days. A car accident can be a wake-up call or a chance to get your dream car. Any way you look at an event, it can tell a different story. As for the events in our stories, we are the authors. We are in control of placing our pieces of our puzzles in the right places. The places that make the most sense for right now.

This is why I love hearing people’s stories: I can hear them placing, arranging, and making sense of all of the different pieces in their life. This is why I will always ask to hear how someone got to where they are, or how they met their partner, or spent their week, month, life. People deserve to be given the chance to place their pieces over and over until it gives them the most meaning—and I intend to give people that chance.

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So I’m Starting Grad School…

Since we’ve last spoken, a lot has occurred. And I mean… A LOT.

I had a few stressful moments in my internship, so I ended up doing a few scrapbook pages (no text yet, just pics) and sending a few cards to people who deserved them. The boyfrand was SO much fun this summer. We’re still dating and and things are going well.. if you have any advice for a couple trying to keep the magic alive long distance, HOLLER. We’re excited and ready for whatever life throws at us. Anyways, during the last few weeks in Indy, I had thai food, saw my logo I worked on all summer on a publication, and hung out in a neck of Indy that I hadn’t discovered before.

I should probably talk about my internship a little bit more… I got to it a little bit early, which ended up being a good call. I got to hang out with my dad more than I had since leaving for college. So it was much needed.
I started helping out in the office once my dad left (and started seeing the boyfrand) and started getting to know my roommates and co-interns. In terms of the professional experience I received, I am so pleased. It was really cool and rewarding to be able to meet with so many professionals in all areas of student life, admissions, residence life, and other functional areas of student affairs. I realized that I do well with two different types of supervisors: the more hands-on and the more hands-off. I am a self-starter and will ask questions when I need to, so the hands-off approach is totally fine with me. The projects and things we got to work on and participate in were as follows: created a training manual for RAs, designed polos for the department, designed a new logo and participated in the rebranding and marketing for the department of Residence Life, sat through strategic planning meetings, helped out with brainstorming of traditions and school spirit initiatives, totally reformatted and helped troubleshoot a new room condition report and process, and helped out where ever I could. After I started wrapping up all of these projects, I realized my internship was coming to a close.

Then I realized that I had to start getting ready for Vermont. I repeat: I had to start getting ready for Vermont. I was preparing to leave for my first year of grad school. I am not gonna lie… I had a major freak out.

I started browsing through the website and looking at why other folks in the program chose this school and what they felt about it. A lot of them had felt this strong connection at the interview days… one that I had definitely felt was missing. I had walked away from interviews feeling self-conscious, underprepared, and defeated for many reasons.

I woke up the next morning from this panic realizing that my brain had been working overtime. I knew why I accepted admission into this program and why I deserved to be there. I think a lot of it came from me realizing that my internship and the folks at this institution were working hard to make sure that I came out of this summer experience prepared for grad school and ready to take on anything Vermont could throw at me. And I knew Vermont would throw a lot of things my way. I knew (and know) that it would challenge me to reexamine my past, my experiences, and my way of thinking. What I realized when I woke up that day, was not that my internship would prepare me, but that my excitement and enthusiasm for learning would also propel me far in the program.

I remembered looking at the courses that I would and could take while enrolled here and I remembered thinking that those classes were ideal. They were perfect. I remembered this. Finally. And I allowed myself to again get excited. I mean.. look at this cow. Wouldn’t you want to go to a school that had this cow posted in its student center? Yeah. Me too. So I am. I’m giving it a chance.

 

And now I’m here. Sitting in the living room of one of my cohort members and new friend. He graciously offered me his guest room when he heard that I couldn’t move into my apartment for another few weeks because it was being remodeled. Oh, and the room in the residence hall they provided for me in the meantime was really hot in the daytime and noisy in the mornings because they were doing construction and restorations on the facade and chimney of the hall (which happens to be a mansion! Super cool actually).

I peeked into my future apartment today and was delighted to see a pile of new furniture, a tangle of what will be my queen size bed, and cabinets and a sink in the kitchen. Woot woot! I’ll stop by there again tomorrow to see how things are looking. Right now, I’m occupied with learning how to be an office manager (going through training on how to do room changes, dole out keys, and prepare a hall for opening) and learning what exactly my marketing, publications, and assessment part of my assistantship entails. My supervisor has been really helpful, as well as all of the other folks I’ve met. I’m even getting a new chair for my office. Bright green, of course.

No, the bike didn’t come with it 😩

Oh, speaking of bright colors, my Jetta (the 10-year old baby my mom and pop gave to me for graduation to get me across country)… well.. she is no longer around. She needed almost $3,000 worth of repairs (for a lot of small things and one bigger thing) and needless to say, that probably would not have been the end. So, with my mom still in town from helping me drive from Indianapolis to Vermont, she went to the VW dealer with me… where I ended up picking out a beautiful red Jetta Sportswagen to lease for the next three years. It’s a stationwagon, so my dream is coming true. I’ve always wanted a mom-wagon. =] And now I have one. YAY. AND SHE’S RED. Jettish the wagon. Or, the wagon for short.

 

Additionally… the drive in the old Jetta from Indy to VT was B-E-A-Utiful… and I got to drive it with my amazing mother. We got to enjoy a lovely stay in a hotel near campus, shop for decorative items for my new apartment, try LOBSTER for the first time (for me), and eat maple creemeeeees. So so so so goooood. Everyone MUST try them at some point in their life. I though I would never have anything as good as frozen custard, but maple creemees are pretty up there. Man.. a maple frozen custard would probably kill me… I’m down.

AHH I almost forgot! We stopped at Niagara Falls on the way over here! It was SO COOL. I still need to google what the hell happened that formed the falls, but they are SO incredible. You feel so small standing next to the rushing water. But it was beautiful. Just plain beautiful.

We also got to go to downtown Middleburry, VT and attend a beer and wine festival called Midd-Fest. It was a gorgeous day.. a little hot, but overall, very awesome. And I got to spend it with my best friend. =]Anyways, I should get back to watching Felicity.. I am catching up on 90s tv shows while I can. And this is it: I am starting grad school.

Love, the ever-talkative,