Thursday, March 1, 2018

February self care

February was a very full month. Socially, professionally, emotionally. I spent most of it being busy, tired, irritable. And also grateful, calm (sometimes), and happy.
I couldn't always slow the train of calendar items barreling at me, but nonetheless I did take several steps toward self care. Here's just a bit of what I did, and what you, too, can do for you. Be well, my friends.
I never missed a Tuesday open mic, because reading my work and listening to others' art feeds me.
I took more than one nap, I think, which is crazy, considering I average about three a year.
When I had a handful of hours between activities, I went home, snuggled in bed, snacked, cross stitched, read, and watched rom coms.
I drank water.
I meditated almost daily.
I had a meeting to discuss my time commitments and what I can realistically give going forward.
I started reading a long book of fiction by a gem of an author.
I surveyed just one level of my bookshelf and removed five books I knew I would never read. Goodwill, here we come.
Every morning I sat up and curled myself over the cat who kept my feet warm all night, paying him with scritches and kisses and words of love.
Instead of cramming to get myself ready, I rescheduled a meeting I wasn't prepared for.
I bought tickets to a concert for one of my all-time favorite artists.
I did not buy tickets for a concert that would bring Alex much joy, but that are $100 a pop.
I let the possibility of seeing Celine on my birthday be a real one, and emailed friends to gauge interest in being my dates to Vegas.
I ate two bowls of chili at the Superbowl party, because it was deeelicious.
I rarely counted calories or stepped on a scale.
Every time I arrived home, I took something out of my car, to slowly but surely empty it out.
I counted my blessings in times of high stress.
I wrote letters to people I love and bought stamps with tiny animals on them.
I ate at least one salad.
More importantly I ate much queso.
I called my parents.
I hiked. I took it slow when I needed to, and I talked to myself through long, deep breaths, reminding myself how great I was doing.
I snuck out of social gatherings when I was ready to go, saying goodbye to the host but not to all.
I wore makeup when I was into it, and didn't when I wasn't.
I made my bed a time or two.
I cleaned my bathroom.
And I wrote.
In some ways, I truly feel this is the best I've ever taken care of myself. Many of my environments are still messy, I still often feel stress, I can't always take things off the calendar that I want to. But I'm taking time to breathe, I'm consciously being grateful, and I'm recognizing my limits and doing what I can to keep my spirit healthy.
Much love,
Bailey and Max

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

An open letter to my high school

Dear Alma Mater,
High school wasn't my favorite time or place.
I felt the force of a creative, funny, confident girl somewhere in the tissue of my body, but in the halls you walk today the true version of me made only a rare appearance. Mostly she felt somehow invisible and glaringly out of place, all at once. So she tried to lay low, hoping that someone would notice the best parts of her and respond to them.
I called my mom this weekend, and after I finished bragging about my 85 degree weather out here in California, she told me about you guys.
Needless to say, the conversation dimmed in tone, as we sunk into the quiet of tragic truths.
Let me say first, to the parents, siblings, and friends of those who were recently lost, you have my love, my prayers, and my firm belief that every future holds hope.
To the teachers who take their tireless stance in front of dry erase boards each morning: you will always be among my favorite group of people in the world, and your investment in me has enhanced my life in ways that will hold me forever grateful. You are invaluable light.
But this letter is mostly to you, the students of my high school, present and future.

When I attended your/our school, the Twin Towers came down. We were reading "In Cold Blood" at the time for English class, and this piece of literature didn't exactly restore my faith in humanity. FYI: there are a lot of gruesome books out there, but I promise there are about a billion others that will put a smile on your face. I know this because I spent a lot of my time in high school visiting the library. My social calendar was pretty sparse, so I often turned to words for warmth.

I vividly remember turning the pages of a novel after school during my senior year, ultimately needing to set it down because my tears were blurring the paragraphs before me. The book was happy, but I was not.

I didn't recognize depression by its name, this being our first encounter, but I certainly felt her unforgiving grip.

Later that semester I became extremely ill, and I am convinced to this day it was my emotions' way of saying, "Something's gotta give."

I was out of school for a week, and I watched my mom cry in response to a very frightening (mis)diagnosis from the doctor. Each hour as I slept a palm would pause on my forehead, checking for fever.

When I returned to classes, my self-conscious figure sidled into calculus, where something happened that I never saw coming. Fifteen years later, my memory has yet to scrap it.

Morgan, a very well-liked girl with friends to spare, shouted, "Bailey!" and slid out of her desk to stand up and wrap me in a real, unrushed hug.

It was in that moment I realized I had been present during my absence. In a time in my life when I thought none of my peers noticed me, I was proven wrong.

And oh how beautiful it can be to be wrong.


When I was released from Morgan's hug, I was held in a new attitude. I thought to myself, "College will be here in nine months, so let's try and make the best of this opening act."

And suddenly I could see.

I could see Nate, sneaking ice cream into English class, bribing our teacher out of a tardy slip.

I could see Corie, who looked out for me and could quote "Friends" as readily as I.

I could see Katie, giggling on her living room floor as we gobbled trail mix and our pencils scratched out derivatives and limitations.
I could see that one teacher (maybe he's still there) who would yell, with empty hands, "Hot coffee!" and clear himself a path through a gaggle of teens.
I could see all the people who were doing their best. I could see that I wasn't necessarily being ignored by my classmates, but perhaps I was too timid to raise my gaze and meet their eyes.
I know how busy you all are, and right now your daily agenda probably holds to-dos such as "Grieve," "Wonder why this happened," and "Just move forward."
I certainly don't want to add to your plate, but I do have one tiny assignment for you, and I give it to you because I care about you, though we may never meet.
So here it is, are you ready?
Find your Jell-O.
I know, I know. You were hoping I was going to say "Let loose and take a break." Well in a way I am saying that.
When I was in your shoes, in your locker room, in your stairwells, thumbing your textbooks and numbing my bum on those ice-cold football bleachers, there was one thing that was constant in my Monday to Friday.
No matter what the menu in the cafeteria, I always ordered a side of Jell-O. Red when I was interested in flavor, green when I was chasing after levity.
The Jell-O was cut into cubes, piled in sticky stacks in plastic bowls, and (now this is very important, so pay attention:) topped with a little flower of whipped cream.
Ever interested in fairness, I divvied up that floret with the tip of my spoon and made sure each cube received a smear of dairy before popping each block into my mouth.
High school wasn't all bad, of course. I laughed at teachers' antics and read some great books and enjoyed the occasional day off thanks to a Kansas ice storm. And of course there was Jell-O. I could count on that gelatin at every lunch hour, often saved it for last. Because it was something to savor.
There are plenty of things to savor during this time in your life, sometimes you just have to search for them.
You, my friends, are the Cougars. By nature you are solitary creatures. But please don't let isolation be your way.
There are so many of you and you're each so. incredibly. special. So get to know each other while you can; don't wait 'til graduation. Talk to each other.
If you're hurting, tell someone, anyone.
If you're feeling fine, reach out to just one person who maybe seems too afraid to speak first.
Find your Jell-O!
Join the choir. Volunteer. Help build a set for the play. Or spend Saturday night working on extra credit, if that's your jam. I highly recommend Mrs. Koenigsdorf's creative writing class -- what a great space to find your voice.
High school will not be forever. Nothing will, including how you're feeling right this moment. These four years don't have to be your celebrity season in the sun, but you deserve a ray of joy regardless.
So find something that makes you happy, revel in it, and revel again. Try your absolute hardest to forget about what others think of your preferred hobby and instead just get into that mode where you can't see or hear or feel anyone else's judgment because you're too lost in what makes you tick. (But look up every now and then; there may be a new friend nearby).

I know firsthand how scary it can be to be yourself. But take it from someone who tried navigating life without herself -- advertising the truth is a lot less work and the only way that flirts with freedom.
Raise those banners to the fore. I can't wait to see how you're going to better this world.
All my love,

Friday, February 2, 2018

Things that do and don't stir up my stress

Things that stress me out
Being out late -- in general, but particularly on a school night
Beads on clothing
Caption contests -- I feel like as a writer I should be good at this, but I don't think I am
Fighting/feisty disagreement/confrontation
Events that happen infrequently (like when I host my annual birthday celebration), in which I put too much pressure on myself to have the best time. Then I try to balance it by not having expectations, and the whole thing just becomes a messy back-and-forth battle of my own wills.
When people in an audience speak loud enough to overpower a performer/speaker
Contemplating how airplanes work, and flying
Riding the subway in Los Angeles
Grocery shopping. Ack. Hate it.
When someone wants to, like, legit ballroom/swing/salsa dance with me. I stick to freestyle, buddy, and my feet only move so fast.
Dogs' inability to sit still/not interact
Being on cruise ships
Related: the movie Titanic
When my many different friends, all of whom I love dearly, don't mesh with each other (see: birthday parties)
The sheer amount of books in the world
Things in the universe (including the universe itself) that are really big or really small
Feeling like I have to watch a movie or play a game when I'd rather just mix and mingle. What? I really love to mix and mingle.
When someone I love is really upset and I can't help him or her feel better
Not having something in my car or bag to read
Being cold
Slow-moving lines
Things that don't stress me out
Dishes in the sink
Toilet paper not placed on the dispenser (as long as it's within reach of the commode, I'm good, people)
Getting up early
Going basically anywhere in public by myself -- restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc.
When people leave a used K-cup in the machine
Dancing, singing, or speaking in public (OK speaking is sometimes stressful, but I still love it)
Chatting with strangers, up to and including if the discussion goes deep
Cats' attitudes/sudden decisions that they need space
In some regards: writing. While of course this vocation has its share of true stress, I feel like in general I enjoy writing way more than the average person, and I'm not always overwhelmed by a blank screen and a blinking cursor.
Society's expectation that people be fashionable when in the presence of others -- meh.
When friendships fizzle out simply because of distance and time. As someone who moved a bunch growing up, and as an extrovert who's bound to meet more people than I can keep up with anyway, I just see this as a part of life. Sure, I look back and think fondly of people in my past, but I don't worry that I did something wrong or, furthermore, whether I'll ever see them again. I believe that God has a way of circling people back into my life when I need them.
Standing room only concerts -- I actually prefer them
When people cry
Doing laundry (not being caught up on piles of laundry is another story)
Talking openly about intense emotions
Silence in between bits of conversation/Quiet people
Being an impromptu social director
Hot weather
Long lines (that move at a reasonable pace)
Your turn: what does (or doesn't) stress you out?

Good things that graced my January

Zero library fines accrued (if you're a Brewer, you understand that this is an achievement)
Lunchtime library visits to pick up books on hold and peruse the YA section for additional treats
Didn't have to pack a suitcase or board an airplane
Spent lots of time cross stitching an adorable Winnie the Pooh pattern
Got reacquainted with my excessively large collection of rom com DVDs
Two very long walks -- just me, Pandora, and suburban sidewalks
My nephew did not grow out of his fat phase, and for this I am thankful
Communed with several talented artists at an open mic at one of my favorite bars
Happy hour date with Cat
Dinner date with Debbie
Writing date with Steph
Read "Milo" and "The Manny Files," two beautiful, hilarious books that together deserve 10 stars
Bought tickets to an Echosmith show, and validated my purchase as their songs made me smile
Reached my 1,000 minute meditation milestone with Headspace
Topanga shared this picture with the world
Did occasional yoga with a coworker during lunch, and giggled and breathed
Had some "shred" sessions at the gym, where pop music pushed me along the treadmill
Went to an outdoor baby shower where the weather was A+ perfect -- only in L.A.
My honey's Bills went to the playoffs
Sat with Chels during church
Wore a party hat at Alex's birthday and received warm greetings from strangers
Great conversation about writing, during which I was encouraged as an author
Lots of silly, sometimes ranty phone conversations with Nick
Got invited to a book club, to be hosted by a girl I adore
Listened to "Fight Song" approximately 13 times (at least)
Took myself out for chicken korma, and considered crashing the wedding next door in my jean jacket
Ate three PB&J's in one day
Bought the new Glen Hansard album
Gushed over the writing of a fantastic columnist
Found a robot tote bag, LEGO paper plates, and dry scalp shampoo for $1 a pop
Attended a bowling birthday fete and a bingo birthday celebration in the same weekend
Fuller House announced a fourth season
(Though I am yet to view), One Day at a Time dropped a new season of episodes
Got to be a first-time-pet-owner coach to a friend who was approved to adopt a fluffy rescue cat
Some friends went on vacation to Florida, and I felt like an honorary traveler thanks to text updates
Got to be a reader, writer, friend, daughter, sister, partner, feline lover, and a person in this life

Monday, January 22, 2018

The birds who have flocked around my heart

I’ve had some troubling experiences in my life. Particularly with the avian community.
Sometime near the age of 12, a blue heron-looking bird with beady red eyes chased me in circles around an indoor rainforest exhibit. I hustle-walked round and round, losing my mind with fear of being pecked to death, until my brothers finally figured out how to chase it, at which point I ran for the exit to recover from what is still a traumatic memory.
During early childhood, a peacock scared the pee out of me in simply being its ostentatious, sexually forward self. To this day, I don’t understand why they let those things roam free. Anything whose body can suddenly burst open should be kept at a considerable distance from nervous blondes. Preferably behind plate glass. And hidden behind a curtain. 
There were also some disagreeable geese outside a library in Colorado that used their necks as lunging devices and no I did not find this charming and no I’m not over it.
So me and birds, I wouldn’t exactly say we’re of a feather.
But our relationship has taken some flight in recent years, and I’m proud of us for the connection we’ve been able to foster. (Mostly I’ve done the difficult emotional work in this area, but I try not to hold that against them, as they probably can’t afford insurance for their own therapy).
Maybe they are working on their treatment of me, because this past summer I saw some peacocks and they seemed to reserve their shows of mating for the peahens instead of me. Also I frequently see some crows or wrens gathering on a wire that overlooks the Pollo Loco (where I presume they hold vigil for their chicken cousins who have gone before), so there is a chance that between bits of gossip they have decided to ease up on my jumpy self.
Because, if I’m being honest, birds have actually served me in incredible ways.
There was Martin and Katerina, the pair of mallards who wandered the Lutheran seminary where my family lived during my high school years. They decided to nest their family of eggs outside our front door, where Dad set out water for Katie and affectionately greeted her with his standard “Duckduckduckduckduck” speak. He’s a very intelligent man; he just, like me, melts into a state of incoherency when adorable, vulnerable creatures are present.
Those birds’ selection of lodging made me feel special, like I came from a hospitable tribe worth choosing.
There were the chickens at the Noah’s Ark petting zoo station at Vacation Bible School. They were placed in my palms and I held them close to my belly, where they sat calmly, like contented cats. Those fluffy babies kept their talons tucked and restored confidence in me after encountering some less-sociable animals that morning.
And there were the flamingos at the Manhattan(, Kansas) zoo this past summer, who truly lifted me out of a depressed funk within moments of crossing my vision. I hoisted my nephew on my back for a better look, and after he scrambled down toward the playground, I lingered and marveled at the ability of these pink balancers to restore balance to my day.
Last night I was rustled in my dark bedroom by the honking of passing geese. I immediately fell to worry, thinking their cacophony was arriving at an unorthodox hour. I wondered if they were OK or if they were sending the humans some warning message about something being off in nature.
“There’s fog, and we’re lost! You’re lost! We’re all lost!” I imagined them shouting.
My paranoia was soon overtaken by fatigue, and I joined Max in his state of slumber, him atop the mountain of blankets that covered me, his feline body a paperweight for mine.
Perhaps the geese were just complaining about the recent chill that snuck up on Los Angeles, inviting other geese to join on their red eye flight to Peru.
Maybe their call laced around the cat's dreams, the fowl kind being, I assume, his favorite type.
Maybe they were just saying Hello.
Anne Lamott says something along the lines of if there were one thing to convince her of the existence of God, birds would be enough.
I’ve never fully understood this thought, but I am beginning to better, I think.