Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Year of Crystal

Fifteen years ago today, Warren and I said, "I do," in front of our closest friends and family. I was twenty-three, he was twenty-six. Long before he proposed I knew I would be his wife. I didn't feel pressured to marry him, although once he put a ring on it, everyone seemed in a hurry to see us walk down the aisle. 

He came from pretty traditional stock so we didn't expect to live together before marriage. In fact, we bought a house together but lived in different states throughout our engagement. He got the house, filled with my parents and siblings as they adjusted to their move from Chicago, and I moved to Kansas City to pursue a position I loved with a global company. I wish I had the courage back then to slow us down a bit but given that we only got seven years of husband and wife, I am thankful that we went with the flow and were married a year after becoming engaged.

The actual wedding was the stuff sitcoms are made of. We planned an outdoor ceremony but an
unexpected storm nixed that plan an hour before the start time. Little mishaps popped up one after the other: the ring fell out of the box and rolled under the stage; the videographer loudly took a call during the ceremony and had to be escorted out; our parents forgot to remove the lasso from around our shoulders after the blessing so we had to shuffle around the stage, literally tied together! Warren and my dad started the day in urgent care because the yard work they did the day before led to a bad case of poison ivy and by the time we got off the flight at our honeymoon destination, I was burning up with a fever and red bumps on my arms, an allergic reaction to the poison ivy I contracted when I put on Warren's tuxedo jacket at the reception. All in all, I could write a book on all the things that went wrong on that day, and maybe I will but the thing I remember the most is recalling a conversation Warren and I had many times as we planned the wedding.
"This isn't about the party, it's about the marriage."
At the end of the day, all we wanted was to be married. We weren't concerned about the details of the ceremony or reception. Sure, we wanted it to be a memorable day for our guests because we loved them and were excited to bring them all together, but if a wedding hadn't been possible, we would have been more than OK. We wanted to share our lives together. We couldn't imagine not doing so. He was my best friend and it excited me to think that he and I would be a team for the rest of our lives. We had found our person in each other and were ready to start new traditions, make more memories and be the people we knew we could become with the other's love and support. 

Looking back, I love that it gave me a funny story to tell and I find the whole thing very sweet but what sticks with me the most, is that we were determined that it wasn't about the wedding, it was about the marriage. That helped us laugh off the small debacles that made up the day and to feel thankful for every minute of that day. It wasn't perfect and we didn't expect it to be. The most exciting part was becoming Mr and Mrs. 

I have been asked on numerous occasions if I want another wedding if I ever remarry. My answer changes depending on the day but what I know for sure is that as long as I spend that day with the person I choose to be my person and who chooses the same in me, it will be about what happens after the party and the hope that we'll reach beyond the Crystal anniversary and spend many decades as husband and wife, something I wish I had with Warren. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

My Chicago


People often tell me how much they love Chicago. It is hard for me to see the allure, having spent most of my early years trying to get out of there. To say I hated living there wouldn't be exactly true, but it is a place that elicits a wide range of emotions that are not all positive.
Related image
Common "artwork" in My Chicago 
When I hear about the Magnificent Mile, Lake Michigan and the Bean, it's like I am hearing about foreign places. They were not a part of My Chicago. My Chicago was corner stores and Cobras; dollar stores, drugs and Disciples; bullets and brown people. I grew up far from the magnificence of Lake Shore Drive, the Sears Tower and Wrigleyville. The streets I knew were in Humboldt Park, a place where you had to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and what colors you wore where. You wouldn't want to be caught wearing black and green in a neighborhood ruled by black and yellow. It became second nature to know what colors belonged where and if you forgot, there was always graffiti on the walls to remind you which ganged controlled the territory. As a female, I often felt like I'd get a pass if I messed up the dress code but always feared for my brothers, cousins and male friends. 




Some of my best memories were of the summer, which happens to be when Chicago is most dangerous. I loved being outside and tried to do everything out there from play with my Barbies to scooting on the scooter, rolling in my skates and my all-time favorite thing - riding my bike. My parents encouraged my siblings and I to go outside and there were over a dozen neighborhood kids waiting for the next game of Catch, Hide N Seek or ready to share bubbles, sidewalk chalk and junk food. In many ways, my block felt like a small town. Everyone knew everyone. Most of the moms stayed home and were always popping their heads out the windows to check on us, offering cold water or allowing us to run inside and use their bathroom. The elders on the block sat outside and watched us, sometimes bringing us ice cream or slices of watermelon. It sounds idyllic but there was also an air of tension. 

Although the block wasn't very long, I was only allowed six houses away from home in one direction and eight in the other. Corners were off limits. Do you know how much concentration and coordination it took to turn a bike around on a sidewalk, avoiding the lawn on one side and a fence on the other? As my bikes got bigger, it became increasingly more difficult and annoying. But the corner was where there was an open lot. When I was six, a girl not much older than me was raped in that lot. Next to the lot was an apartment complex where a ten-year old kid shot someone to earn his street cred but got prison time instead. I remember his mother inconsolably crying on the sidewalk as the cops hauled off her youngest son. The corner was where drug deals and gun sales went down and I was told to stay away from there. It was also where I became a victim of crime for the first time at the ripe old age of four. My mom and I were on our way to the corner store and I insisted on riding my Strawberry Shortcake tricycle. As we approached the corner, my mom just a few feet away, a guy ran by, snatching my gold necklace and scratching my neck and chest in the process. I don't recall what he looked like, or even what the necklace looked like. What I remember most was the surprise at how quickly it happened and the panic in my mother's voice when she called out. 

Panic was a common feeling that stemmed from fear and progressed into the anxiety I still deal with today. Fear for my safety is what I remember most about living in Chicago. The worse was at night. My dad often worked jobs where he either left before the sun came up or long after it had set. Because our apartment didn't have garages, he had to park his car wherever there was a spot. It was sometimes on another block and he had to walk in the dead of the night. As a young child, maybe eight or nine years old, drive-by shootings would often wake me up. I would get in the fetal position, clamp my hands together in prayer and beg God to keep my dad safe and that he didn't catch one of those bullets meant for someone else. I would repeat my prayer over and over again like a mantra, my entire body tense, feet rubbing over and under each other, eyes shut tight while tears and sweat dripped onto my pillow. I don't know how long this went on, but it felt like hours. I'm not sure how many times a week this happened but since drive-bys were pretty constant, I imagine it happened often. To this day, I know I am stressed when I lay in the fetal position and rub my feet over and under each other. 

Chasing the feeling of safety led to my choice to attend Iowa State University. By my senior year in high school I had seen a girl get shot by a stray bullet at a bus stop; lost friends and neighbors to gangs, AIDS and prison; been in and witnessed fistfights, and extended my fears past my dad's nightly walks to my siblings growing up and becoming targets in their own neighborhood. When I visited the campus I was less impressed with the academic accolades and more with how people left their cars running at the gas station and students didn't lock their dorm rooms. There was a feeling of peace and safety I hadn't known and I wanted that more than a degree from a certain institution. In fact, I had been all set to attend New York University before visiting Ames. It had been my dream school throughout high school but when it came time to decide, safety won out. 

Growing up in My Chicago carried into my experiences on campus. Whenever I saw someone in a baseball cap I would make a mental note of which side it was cocked so I knew what they represented. It took a long time for me to stop seeing people dressed in black and fill-in-the-blank color and not instantly categorize them into a gang. Even though I was in a place that was safe, embracing it didn't come easy. I often locked my roommate out of our room because I locked the door even to go to the bathroom. A phenomenon that blew my mind was how students of color always nodded and said hello when we passed on campus. I had no idea who they were and hadn't figured out the unsaid solidarity in being one of so few students of color. My lack of response to those greetings got me labeled as "that mean Spanish girl" by fellow students and I figured if it meant they left me alone to get my work done, then I was OK with that title. It took over a semester for me to allow myself to feel connected to the safety of my new environment. While I never got to unlocked door status, I did adopt the nod and greeting and stopped associating colors and hats with gang culture. 

But going home was a different story. I felt the tension of My Chicago in my muscles as I got closer to home. I expected violence at every corner and avoided venturing out as much as possible. In fact, I made it a point to stay on campus as often as I could, taking out loans for summer courses, working during breaks and finding internships in different states. I knew almost immediately upon leaving Chicago that I would never live there again. Twenty years later, my opinion hasn't changed.

Now that my family is out of the city and has made a life away from the dangers of My Chicago, I don't even have the desire to go back and visit. While I recently made a special trip just to visit the places I grew up hearing about like Navy Pier, Grant Park, Michigan Avenue, etc. it didn't feel like a homecoming. It was more about trying to see Chicago from a visitor's perspective now that I no longer have to call it home. While the handshakes, colors and hand gestures aren't as prevalent in Chicago's gang life, their legacy is still found in the homicide rates and makeshift memorials created on sidewalks across the city, honoring lives cut short over the same territorial mentalities that ruled when I lived there. My old stomping grounds has a Starbucks and high-end dog grooming place but the old artwork that adorned garages and sides of buildings that announced whose territory it is still shines. Gun shots are still commonplace and summers continue to be the deadliest season. It saddens me that a place that holds such beautiful architecture, amazing food and charismatic sports fans shares space in my heart with such strong memories of feeling scared for my life and that of my loved ones. Yet, I know that it led me to people, places and experiences that have profoundly shaped my life. It also holds some dear memories and I appreciate Chicago, even if I still don't want to call myself a resident ever again.

Related image
Mural that depicts My Chicago, titled A MOTHER'S GREATEST FEAR

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Eve


The eve of Warren's death happens to be Valentine's Day. I was never a huge fan of the holiday, other than I was born exactly nine months later so I guess I should be thankful for it. I had many Valentine's Days that were just like any other day of the week, whether I was single or not. As a wife, I honestly can't recall all our Valentine's Days together but I do remember our last one. We treated it like any other day because it was a Tuesday. Warren and I both worked that day, having had a date night the weekend before. After work I made our daughter a Valentine's Day box with some treats she liked, including a blue bath bomb she used that night. While she bathed Warren got home. It was some time after 7PM. He had a work event that evening where he wore his olive green suit. He took his final photo at that event, surrounded by colleagues, leaning on a crutch. He had torn his Achilles tendon and it was still healing from the surgery. His cast had been off for a few weeks but his foot wasn't ready for his full weight. He arrived home exhausted. He took a few bites of the dinner I had left for him but was too tired to eat any of the heart-shaped brownie my daughter and I had made for him. It was his favorite treat. His skin was pale with a tinge of yellow. I could tell by looking at him how tired he was. We laid in bed and something played on the television. We ignored it as we talked about our day and listened to our daughter play happily in the tub. At one point she called out, "Can we save this blue bath water so I can play in it again tomorrow?" We giggled at her request and he wrinkled his nose as he told her the water would be yucky by the time she bathed again. She kept playing and we enjoyed the quiet time together. 

After goodnight kisses and tucking her in, we laid for a while longer, a mundane evening like any other. 

That was our Valentine's Day after seven years of marriage. Today is the eve of seven years of living without Warren. I have been his widow as long as I was his wife. Just like our marriage, this time has flown by. So much pain has passed through these last few years along with so much joy. He has missed so much, from births to deaths, graduations and other milestones of those he loved most. Those are some of the most painful moments. Happiness is always tinted with sadness at the thought of not sharing these moments with him. People love to tell me that he is still with me, that he is a part of everything I do and I nod politely because they mean well but have no idea how hard it is to face these moments without him physically at my side - How I ache to see his smile, or hear his laughter or his voice guiding me through them. His spirit does little to fill the void he left. 

Over the years I have become the master of pretending I am OK. And in many ways, I am. A few anniversaries ago I was the picture of anger. It burned from within. For other anniversaries I was numb, afraid and anxious for the mix of feelings I knew would come. I never know what set of emotions will abound. Often I dance between them, doing a back and forth salsa between extremes while functioning as normally as I can given the new normal that is my life. I can never not be his wife even as I move forward with my love life. He is never far from my thoughts even as I try to be in the moment. His example colors my actions even as I doubt whether he would do as I do. I live to make him proud while realizing that he will never have to face the challenges I have been left to handle. At times this new normal is a weight that drowns me and makes me a fighter. Other times it is the armor that gets me through when I think I can't handle something - a reminder that I've been broken and put myself together piece by piece.

Warren shaped me in ways I am still discovering and even in death he continues to influence my being, my thoughts, my view of the world. People who have never met him have talked to me of the impact he has made on their life and those who knew him help me keep his legacy alive. I see him in the smiles of my nieces and nephews, hear twinges of his voice in my father in law's stories. At the same time, the longing for his physical presence still stings at the center of my core, reminding me that my great love is a memory. On the eve of seven years post love-of-my-life I remain thankful to have a soulmate and that because of all he taught me I can say with confidence that while I am scarred and still healing, I am OK in more ways than I ever dreamed possible. My love is still strong but it bends towards him in a grateful arch of recollections, thoughts and life lessons I am blessed to have learned from a man who was made of pure love and compassion and who lives on in me every day.

Tomorrow will be hard. I will remember in exquisite detail the minutes of the day - from his last moments to my first as a widow. I may cry and feel anger, I may spend time in the fetal position. I might mindlessly snack on junk and be numb and I might laugh out loud at random flashbacks of silly moments. All this might happen back to back or over the span of hours. I never really know. All I know for sure is that anything I feel is OK, normal and exactly what I need. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bad Ass: A sorta book review

I recently left a secure 9-5 to pursue my dream of being a full time speaker and writer. It was prompted by some changes that made my work environment toxic. I would come home so mentally and emotionally exhausted that I had no energy for the things and people I love. 

I contemplated my options for months. I spoke to my HR department twice. I looked at other positions within the institution. My options were super limited and I decided that it wouldn't help to trade one devil for another. Was I scared? Definitely. Did I feel like a crazy person leaving a job to go after something as abstract as motivational speaking? YES. Still do. But speaking is when I feel most invigorated. Each time I share my story I feel alive in a way that doesn't compare to any other facet of my life. Most people are terrified of speaking in public. I love it. I feel nervous beforehand but once I begin, I get in a zone that is like no other. 

Over my life I have felt propelled to do certain things that fit with my life at the time and are fulfilling. Speaking is another of those callings. As with any change in life, I feel fear, doubt and a sense of losing control. Those feelings sometimes manifest in middle of the night freak out thoughts that keep me up for hours, my mind racing with the all the worst case scenarios of my actions.

As I often do in times of uncertainty, I turned to books. I had heard of the book, YOU ARE A BAD ASS: HOW TO STOP DOUBTING YOUR GREATNESS AND START LIVING AN AWESOME LIFE. By the title it sounded like exactly the book I needed. In some ways it was, but I also had a mix of thoughts.

Like most books of this nature, it is a rallying call to put your goals out there and trust the universe to make it happen. It talks a bit about the author's path to leaving a job and pursuing her passion. Like most self-help books it gives very broad, general advice for how to do so and still feed your family. I was looking for tangible steps I could take that were beyond mantras and faith. I wanted to know how to identify the game-changers that could influence the universe. What is the first thing I should do in my pursuit of a career change? How do I establish my brand on a budget? I was looking for more of a guidebook with steps that I could cross off as I did them.

Lots of the advice was simpler than what reality seems to dish out. For example, at one point it mentions getting a small business loan if that is what is needed to make your dreams come true. While this is certainly a viable route, it reeked of privilege. It was stated as such a simple step with no accounting for the low percent of approved loans for women and people of color. It also did not account for people who have less than stellar credit, which is mostly marginalized communities. That  perspective of privilege tainted many parts of the book. 

Not to rag on the book because it was mostly enjoyable with humor and an easy tone but it was almost too light in its RAH-RAH YOU CAN DO IT LIKE I DID! approach. At points I felt uplifted when the author shared some examples of success but at other times I found myself wanting to scream, "Oh come on, it can't be that simple. The universe does not hand out opportunities on a silver platter!" 

Maybe part of my problem is that I am looking for insider tips for what I know takes hours of hard work, stepping out of my comfort zone and lots more faith than I have had in years. I wanted the book to tell me to send X-many emails a day to influencers; how to identify those recipients and what I should say to get them to want to book me. I wanted the book to tell me how to get over my aversion to phone conversations and what to say that doesn't sound awkward. That is the level of direction I wanted.

I needed a chapter titled: DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET WHERE YOU WANT TO GO because I was at Warren's side for the hours of research, networking and dedication to the business. I helped him with lots of it although he definitely did the bulk of the work.

I rebranded myself when I transitioned from Corporate America to nonprofits and when I went from nonprofits to academia. Those moves felt less intimidating because I was going from one job to another but I still had to reposition myself from what I was to what I was becoming. 

For some reason, this transition feels larger. Perhaps it's because I am the sole breadwinner for my family and that comes with tremendous pressure. Maybe it is because I am older and more apprehensive and cynical. It felt much more possible with my cheerleader/best friend at my side because I knew he had my back no matter the outcome or how long it took. He saw the best in everyone, including me and constantly reminded me to do the same. Left to my own devices I see the let downs and disappointments in people and mostly myself. I err on the side of little faith in the universe. Nothing I have accomplished came easy or felt handed to me. To believe that I put it out there and the universe takes care of it feels irresponsible. At the end of the day, the universe can't write a check to put food in my kid's mouth or clothes on her back and while the book was an easy read, it didn't take me where I needed to go to feel like a bad ass and an awesome life is just waiting for me simply because I desire it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Storytelling (again)

Over the weekend I had the honor of helping a local producer kick off her first event. It was special because it was woman with a vision and I love supporting women who go after their dreams. I was excited to be part of something that focused on women of color and is the first of its kind in my city. 

When I was asked to participate the title: STORIES TO TELL MY DAUGHTER excited me. Raising a teenager is difficult and I believe it takes a village so it would be a great way to have other women impart their wisdom and experience on my daughter and give her a varied perspective. It was also something I wanted to share with my own mother.

I said yes without a story in  mind. I figured it would come to me as I learned more about the event. When I met with the producer and she explained her vision, a story began to form. The problem was, I didn't want to share that story. It was extremely personal in a way that would lay me bare in a setting much more intimate than my previous storytelling experience. This would be a smaller venue, the audience would be physically closer. My social circle crossed with that of some of the other storytellers and the producer so I knew there would be a lot more familiar faces in the audience. That was intimidating given the vulnerability I would have sharing that story.

I wish I could say that I had some brilliant strategy for coming up with another story. Unfortunately, my strategy was procrastination. I should have written out the story many times and went over the timeline and details. I did not. Instead I started reading two new books and tried to justify my fears and hesitations by burying my head in someone else's story. I kept asking myself why I had to tell that particular story. I gave myself no viable response other than that was the story I needed to tell. Period. For weeks I fought with my procrastination and ignored my inner-voice. Even as I resisted, the story formed in my head. Without trying, I had a beginning, middle and end. I had the theme and knew how to weave it in without writing it out.

Weeks of this immature behavior went by and before I knew it, it was the night before rehearsal. With no other story formed, I gave in and wrote the one that wouldn't leave me alone. It came easily, which became a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to try a different technique for preparing to speak. Rather than rely on notes and outlines, I recorded the story and listened to it over and over again. It was helpful to hear it in my own voice. I was able to focus on the pace, pauses, alliterations, repetitions and the inflections of my voice. With my focus on those elements of the story I was less worried about the content. I was still telling the story that my heart wouldn't allow me to ignore, but I found a way to be less worried about it. 

At rehearsal I let it flow and was pleasantly surprised. It was more polished than I expected although I hadn't spent much time memorizing exactly what to say. The reaction of my fellow storytellers was reassuring. They each shared how they related to what I shared and how important it was to put that story into the universe. By the time I left rehearsal, I better understood why that story had been so stubborn.
Storytellers: STORIES TO TELL MY DAUGHTER


On the day of the event I was more nervous than I expected. I got to the venue an hour early and it helped to be in the space where I would speak. I generally don't feel a need to be in the space where I am speaking much more than a few minutes before I begin but it felt necessary in this instance. I envisioned the seats filled and how I would appear to the audience. I was glad that my mother, brother, daughter boyfriend and best friend would be there, although I had no intention of making eye contact with them for fear my throat would lock mid-story.
My stomach was a hurricane and my knees shook as the MC introduced me but once I got out the first line, all that melted away. I got through my story with no locked throat, no tears and no other mishaps. It was me and the audience and I felt electric and warm. I connected with the room and felt as though I was talking to close friends. That warmth carried through to the end of the event when audience members came to congratulate me. One person in particular smiled with misty eyes and hugged me, completely wordlessly. I did not know this woman but in her embrace I felt like I peeked into her story and intertwined my own to form a bond. It was a lovely and exhilarating moment between two strangers that also felt deeply personal and familiar. At that moment I shot up a little thank you to the universe for the courage to tell that story and not allowing my own fears to steer me away from what that women needed. It was a wonderful reminder that our stories truly are a gift to those who hear or read them and should be respected as such. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Six Years

Mi Querido Amor,

It is strange to think that 2,190 days ago you left this earth. To think of it in years feels like it hasn't been that long yet feels like decades in my heart. 


You have missed so much and yet you are still part of everything. Mostly I know you are part of my raising our daughter. Most of the time I feel like I am doing things so differently than if you were here. We had some very distinct ideas about how to raise a girl. You are missing the fun of the teen years. She is no longer the little girl who would spend snow days playing dress up in your suits and ties. Today she wears ripped jeans so tight I think she needs to spray herself with butter to get into them and sometimes I look at her and wonder what you would think of that style. Would you hound her to have more integrity in her appearance or would she have you so wrapped around her finger that you would be her shopping buddy? Both are very real possibilities. I sometimes imagine us disagreeing on things like sleepovers and make-up - your more traditional expectations clashing with my wanting to break away from those old ways that make young women question their worth. Sometimes I smile to myself when I tackle things I know would have made your ears turn bright red like puberty and the talk

So often I want to talk to you about everything that has to do with her. I want to hear your advice, see you laugh at her sass and beam with pride when teachers tell me that she is among their top students, or when she wears your Grinnell sweatshirt and says she wants to attend the same school as her daddy. You always wanted her to try her hardest and that is what she does. She gets that from our high expectations and that is part of the legacy you left her that I strive to carry on. 

It is hard not to wonder how her personality would be different if she had more years of your influence. I have done the best I can to keep your spirit alive among us but so many times I feel like I am keeping my head above water that it's hard to know if I make any in-roads. There are certainly times when I fail at parenting and feel that you would be ashamed of my actions. There are times when I send up a little, "I'm sorry" when I know you would have expected me to react differently than I do. I try, I really do but some of the challenges of parenting are more than what even you could face with an open mind and heart. This is hard work that never ends. 

Sometimes I am happy that you got the good years of playing tea party and making her day with a stuffed animal. Those days brought you so much joy and you took those moments with you. They were what brought you happiness and what our daughter holds on to. Nowadays it is way harder to make teens happy. Half the time it feels like swimming against the tide while wearing a weighted vest. I wish you were here to swim alongside me, hold me up when my arms get tired. This is by far the hardest thing you left me to do and I want to do it in a way you can be proud of. Even with the village of love and support you and I built, parenting solo is lonely.

Overall, six years feels like it has dragged on and gone by in the blink of an eye all at once. Was it six minutes ago that the casket closed? Was it sixty years ago I last heard your voice? Perhaps that is why many people equate grief with losing your mind. It feels like that sometimes. I miss you in subtle ways all the time, more so than I ever mention because it has become a part of who I am. I see things that you would like and the thought of you comes to mind. It saddens me but I remind myself that your bliss is better than anything I can see and the feeling passes. It all happens in seconds. It's like breathing. Yet, the days leading up to the 15th all my emotions are so much more profound.

I feel fear and vulnerability at levels that are hard to deal with. I feel needy to a degree that is uncharacteristic and it scares so me so I withdraw when what I really want to do is be curled up among those who love me and have been my rocks. The thought that replays in my head is how clueless I was in the days leading up to your death. I had no idea that we were experiencing our lasts. Our last good morning, our last disagreement, our last Valentine's Day, our last good night. The days were so normal and mundane and then BOOM. You were gone; my life changed; I changed. The trust I had in the universe was flipped on its head. In its place is the dread of the other shoe falling, waiting for the next shock to hit. It's like when you've been beaten and someone comes to hug you but you flinch because you expect to be beaten again, even if the person is smiling and calm as they approach you. I live in that flinch, especially in the days leading to the 15th.

I ask myself how I manage to unflinch the rest of the year and I don't have a clear answer. Why after six  years am I still flinching? I don't have an answer to that, either. I have these high expectations every year that I will be stronger, more prepared and less emotional. But every year I am disappointed at how much I feel, hurt and want things to get easier.

This year is no exception. Every anniversary I try new approaches. This year I have packed my calendar with back to back appointments and will end the night surrounded by family and friends. If it were not for them, I don't know where I would be. Throughout the day it is inevitable that my mind will wander back to February 15, 2012 and I will think about what I was doing that day. The memories will come in waves of feelings as they do every year. The scenes from that day will mix with scenes from your wake and funeral as they always do. One memory that always comes to me on this anniversary is the last time I saw your physical self, right before they closed the casket and how my feet felt glued to the floor. I didn't want to see the actual closing but I couldn't bear to walk away knowing what was to happen as soon as I did. From then on, the closed casket wasn't you. It was a prop from the worse day of my life.

Te quiero Mi Amor. Hoy y siempre.

Tu Preciosa,

Christina








Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Strengths

A few weeks ago I took one of those assessments that are meant to uncover your strengths. It was a bunch of questions that asked me how likely I was to do one thing or another. It took about fifteen minutes and was pretty easy. I had done similar exercises before and was candid in my responses, wondering if I would learn something different about myself that I hadn't already learned. 

The chances of another person having my strengths in the same order as me is one in 33 million. In case you fall in those odds, the descriptions are as follows:
  1. Input: Have a craving to know more; like to collect and archive all kinds of information
  2. Intellection: Characterized by their intellectual activity and are retrospective and appreciate intellectual conversation
  3. Futuristic: Inspired by the future and what could be; energize others with their vision of the future
  4. Ideation: Fascinated by ideas and able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena
  5. Strategic: Create alternative ways to proceed; can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues
These strengths were not a surprise. In the grand scheme of things, some themes emerged that made total sense. One theme that stood out among the descriptions of these strengths was efficient

Having led nonprofits where my actual title should have been, Boss of Making Things Happen on a Zero Budget, I constantly question whether how things are being done is truly the best way to do them. That sometimes comes across as challenging others or bossy but that is not the intent. I like to know that whatever I am doing is the best possible way to do it. I hate to know that resources, time, energy or money are being wasted. That is probably why I can never imagine myself working in politics or government.  

I am learning how to apply that efficiency in my writing. With my latest manuscript, I have asked whether or not a character is necessary. Can another one carry out his purpose? Is it worth having another backstory to contend with or can I move the plot along and develop the characters without him? I also ask that about words. I tend to get wordy in my descriptions or backstories and have to comb through scenes asking whether everything is necessary. I have to remind myself to trust my reader and allow them to insert their own lives into the narrative. As I've blogged before, that is an area of on-going struggle for me.

The craving to know more and archive information has been valuable in writing. I store bits of information here and there for stories. Sometimes it makes it in a scene, other times my understanding of something allows me to create a more complete picture. When I wrote about MMA I read books about the sport, but also manuals about how the moves are done, in what order they work best and why certain body types are better at certain moves. I even researched the associated injuries and what the long-term effects could be. I wasn't surprised I scored high in this area, although I am not as good as by BF at memorizing random trivia. I collect a lot of information when needed, but my storage isn't what it could be. 

In my professional life, I am known as the person who questions everything. I have no qualms about challenging someone, especially when they tell me the reason for something is because it has always been done that way. You might as well taunt me with a red flag because I jump on that as a reason to find another way to achieve the same goal. It has led to co-workers feeling intimidated by me and superiors questioning whether or not I want to be a team player. I want to be a team player for sure but I do not want to be on a mediocre team. At the end of the day I have learned to hone this in with various approaches so I don't come on too strong and try to remember to assure others that my objective is not to step on toes or be a pain in the ass, but rather it is based on productivity.

When it comes to challenging the status quo, I'm your girl. When it comes to challenging my characters...that's not my greatest strength. I love them and want to be nice to them. I want them to come out ahead but it makes for a boring story to always be nice to them. Some of my beta readers find it hard to believe that it's difficult for me to be mean to my characters because they are beaten, abused, mangled and hurt. They lose loved ones and live hard lives and none of that is easy to write. But, at the end of the day, it is still their story and I have to get past my instinct to protect them and give them the opportunity to be brave, strong and fierce.

The other theme that emerged was forward-thinking. I think anyone with anxiety is futuristic. We ponder and worry about what has yet to happen all the time. However, when writing, that is when I can have a little fun controlling my character's destinies. I like to have control in real life, too but reality doesn't always cooperate so creating a world where I am the ringmaster is ideal. It is also therapeutic. With words, I can be the master of my fate. Sometimes as I work through fictional scenarios I subconsciously process my reality. This has been a gift at times and also a curse when my own writing has been a trigger for feelings I thought had been dealt with already.

Moving forward I hope to continue to remind myself of these strengths as I look for others. Over time as life teaches me more lessons I am sure the list will change and I will gain new perspectives. That is the most exciting part.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Being a Storyteller

A few weeks ago I got an email from a local reporter asking if I'd be interested in sharing my story as a widow who had found love again. She had heard about me from someone in the community and wanted to know more about me. 

I gave her my story in four points:
  • I loved Warren
  • Warren died
  • I thought love would never happen again
  • Thanks to Tinder, I was wrong
She was intrigued and we spoke in more detail for a while. She said several other people had been recommended and that after she heard their stories she would get back to me. I didn't give it much thought and one day I got an email from her saying that I, along with five others, had been selected to be part of the line-up to tell stories related to New Beginnings, the theme for their event.

These events had been happening all over the city for at least a year but I had never attended. I didn't really know what to expect but I speak publically all the time so I was excited to get another chance to do so. Then she told me that this would be different. It would have to be a personal story that hadn't been shared before. Also, it wouldn't be a presentation - no podium or slideshow to guide me. I couldn't even use notes. I had to tell a personal story. 

I paused. While I write stories all the time, what she wanted was way more intimate. I would be telling a room full of strangers about something I hadn't told many people I was close to. Telling a story is way different than writing one. There would be no delete button if I screwed it up. Once I said something, it would be out there and open for immediate interpretation. While I could pre-write it and try to memorize it, the project was about connecting through stories. I didn't want to sound like I was reciting a memorized verse. Telling a story is a gift you give to the listener. It is about them more than the teller. 

As a storyteller, my job was to bring the listener into a world I knew and allow them to navigate it however they chose. Some people would be able to relate, others would try to do so and to others, it might be a trigger. Writing can do the same thing but as the writer, I don't see and cannot react to the reader. This would be different. I would stand on a stage, deliver a story from my heart and absorb the audience's response. To complicate matters, the venue was the same place where Warren proposed.

By the time I learned that little fact I had already agreed to the event and it added an extra layer of worry. Would I be able to stand in that place where I had once felt elation and excitement and tell of the pain of losing what had been envisioned when I said yes to his proposal? How was I supposed to stand in that space again and talk about loving another man? My stomach locked every time I thought about it and there were times when I started to email the reporter to tell her that perhaps I should wait until another time, at another venue to share that story. 

It took many internal conversations and self-motivation to decide that I would not back down. I wanted to tell my story. I felt like it needed to be told. This voice inside my head reminded me that I was not the kind of woman who backed down from challenges. If I could plan Warren's funeral, I could honor him in this story. He is the reason I can love as I do and the story would center on that. I made it my goal to highlight hope, not loss.

As the weeks went by I wrote and re-wrote my story. I even told it to Warren one night as I looked at his photo and practiced. Looking at him while I told the story helped solidify that it wasn't a story about replacing his love. It was a story about continuing his legacy of love. Had he and I not loved one another as we did, my story would not be possible. It was that same love that drew my BF into my life and brought us closer. Thankfully, my BF had sensed this early into our relationship and the way he continues to honor that love and be grateful for it allowed me to tell a story that had multiple layers but at its core, was about how I was loved and how that love allowed me to love again.

Courtesy of Des Moines Register
Just before the host introduced me, I thought I would pass out. I took a breath and calmed myself down. When I walked on the stage my heart raced. I felt the lump form in my throat within the first minute of speaking. My family and best friend were there and I could feel their support. And of course, my new love was there. His presence helped push the lump aside and gave me the courage to tell the story. We took a chance on each other and opened up to what could be. That wasn't easy for either of us and I am proud of our courage. I wanted a story about hope, and when I think of us, I feel that. Our story has just as much weight as what I had. Telling that story was a gift to him and what we shared, just as Warren had given me a gift on that same stage thirteen years earlier. 

I got through the story and when I was done there was an intermission where I got to take a breath and calm my nerves. During that time I got a lot of accolades. People told me how much they related to the story and I was happy it resonated with the audience. Widows came up to me and thanked me for telling their story and shared how they had found love again. I was honored they shared their stories with me. One widow told me I was brave and I told her that she was, too. When the crowd had moved on to drinks and bathroom breaks I got the greatest kudos of all. My boyfriend's eyes were moist and filled with emotion. In his embrace the last of the nerves melted away and my heart found its normal rhythm. I knew he had received the gift.

Listen to the story here.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Marriage

I ran across a headline today that made me stop and think. It said, ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR YOUR MARRIAGE? While I didn't hesitate in thinking, "YES," I asked myself why. It was good to reflect and see how marriage has played in role in forming me as a woman.

I have heard people say that marriage is just a piece of paper and that it is unnecessary. I have never agreed with that. The right to that piece of paper has been the center of controversy, strife, and heartache for couples who were denied the right to marry. Without the struggles of those who fought against that injustice, my husband may not have existed since interracial couples were not always able to marry legally. In my opinion, that piece of paper is a declaration of a promise that you are a team through life. While anything can symbolize that kind of partnership, I learned that the act of marriage also holds security. That piece of paper allowed me to make decisions after Warren died that I would otherwise be unauthorized to make. It designated me as the person closest to him who would know what his last wishes might be; how he would want his estate managed; and as the beneficiary of his assets. This authority was earned in the countless hours spent supporting him in all he tried. It was more than being the person who cheered him on. We brainstormed together on ideas; I helped him scope talented hires; we networked together to make connections for his career and business; I was at his side shaking hands and smiling at events where he was the honoree, speaker and featured guest; I held down the household while he wheeled and dealed, and put up with the laptop as the third wheel in our marriage. In other words, we were a team in all things. His successes were possible because of me and mine were thanks to him. 

He earned the right to all I accomplished in our marriage. I didn't do it alone and would not have been able to get nearly as far without his steady supply of encouragement and hands-on guidance. Warren knew my goals and dreams so when he came across an opportunity to help make those happen, he attacked it as if it were his own. That level of support and energy at my side was a wonderful example of true partnership and allowed me to develop my passions, see the world and become the woman I am today. Being married taught me about teamwork. Our dreams were intertwined, dependent on the other. Once married we were no longer making choices for ourselves, it was for the well-being of what we were creating. The days of being the center of my own universe were behind me. I learned what it was like to have a teammate in my corner for the good and the bad. On the days things were good we both celebrated. When things weren't good we strategized together to see how to turn things around. There were times when I pushed harder because he expected no less of me. He did the same and strived to make me proud.

Every day we built our life together gave me a reason to be proud because it wasn't easy work. We had different ideas and temperaments. We expressed ourselves uniquely. We spoke different love languages we had to learn and adapt to. There were times when we clicked and times when we didn't. Like any other relationship, it had its highs and lows. When life threw curveballs we dodged them together and when we got lemons we squeezed them together to make lemonade. Living dually like that was like training for the ultimate Olympics with my coach and teammate rolled into one and always at my side.

In the end, my team lost an MVP. Am I thankful for that team? Hell yea. Even though it felt like I could never play that sport again, it didn't dampen my memories of the game or the camaraderie of being on a team. I am grateful that I learned those lessons and can carry them with me. I will forever be grateful that I learned to live an interknit life with someone else. The lesson was short so if I ever marry again I know I will have more to learn but I am grateful for the marriage that showed me I am capable of being an active member of such an important team.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

38

I looked back at last year's birthday post with hopes of big changes. This time last year, I was battling the paranoia that came from the election, as well as the normal feelings of wanting my life to count for something.  

This year came with a wave of unexpected sadness. I say 'unexpected' and immediately feel like I am lying to myself because it is always expected, just never welcomed. Since Warren died, all my joy is tinged with sadness. As often happens, I had a bout of tears that wouldn't stop popping up at inopportune times. At work: tears streamed down my face. Writing a scene: tears when the scene wasn't even sad. Driving: more tears. I was like WTF?!? Basta! Enough of this! There is so much to smile about and be grateful for! But, internally, the wound of loss was irritated. I wanted to talk to my friend about all there was to celebrate and that was not possible. I have other friends. I have a caring boyfriend who listens to my nonsense on a daily basis. My family is full of support and listening ears. Yet, here I was, almost six years later still yearning for the one thing I will never have. 

I've said it before and I'll say it until my last breath: GRIEF SUCKS. It hits you when you are least prepared and keeps pounding on you when you want peace. It gives you some moments of relief and you think you've gotten stronger, and then BAM it comes to show you who is really in charge. 

A thoughtful token of love
Something else I've said over and over again: I am a lucky woman. I am loved and grateful for those who love me. That love turned my mood and my day around. It started with my boyfriend downloading and playing my favorite song first thing in the morning. He surprised me with a beautiful and thoughtful gift that pays homage to my love of dragonflies, which has been a source of comfort since Warren died. The necklace is bright and delicate, two words that also reflect our relationship in lots of ways- yet another reason to be happy and thankful this year. He also gave me lots of hugs and well wishes that helped me get through the day.

I gave myself the gift of two hours to write before work. I am in the thick of a new manuscript and in that phase where it's super exciting to be in the story and watch my characters take shape. It's similar to being around your crush - there is never enough time and there are butterflies.

After work, family and friends came together to indulge my craving for sushi and Thai food. During dinner, I looked around the table full of smiling faces and thought about how much I am me because of them. Everyone at the table, plus those who couldn't make it are the reason I move forward. They inspire me, motivate me, love me and accept me on my good and bad days. They are my weapons against grief. They counter the sadness and bad feelings that try to dampen my soul. 

Grief is a part of who I am and will always be. It is intertwined with everything I do and every emotion that flows through my body. It will never leave me but I am armed with so much more. Even on the days when it is hard to see that, love is just as strong and it fights through the negative, countering it and bringing me through to the other side. The people in my life are my armor. It is for them and because of them that I can fight back and feel stronger so that I can be armor to someone else. Being surrounded by their love helped me push past the grief that tried to shadow the celebration. 

As I look forward to my thirty-eighth year of life, I see that the good and bad are what life is made of. As long as the good never leaves me, I will continue to feel that even with the grief, I live a good life filled with love. This is the mantra to remember when grief tries to tell me otherwise. 

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