I Touch Glitter Every Day: On Preemptive Apologies and Loving My Scrapbooking Self

Last week, after someone asked a question in one of the scrapbook groups I’m in on Facebook, I found myself reading my own blog. Specifically, some of my posts about scrapbooking. I went in search of a post I thought I’d written about how to fit in a lot of journaling on a layout (turns out, I didn’t write a blog post about it; instead, it was one of the lessons from my Big Picture Scrapbooking classes), but as I scrolled and read, I noticed a couple of things:

  1. I’ve written a lot of posts that could be helpful for other scrapbookers. (Please note it took me about five minutes to write that sentence because I don’t want to be all tooting-my-own-horn, you know?)
  2. Almost every single post I’ve written about scrapbooking either starts with or includes some sort of preemptive apology.

What’s a preemptive apology? It’s where I purposefully cut off the mockery of my internal voices by acknowledging their objections up front. IE: yes, I know scrapbooking is dumb, yes I know it’s silly for a grown-ass woman to be playing with colored pencils like a kindergartener high on new school supplies, yes I know I’m not an artist, yes I know this is terribly self-indulgent, yes I know my effort in writing this is pointless because I’m not now nor will I ever be sitting at the Cool Scrapbooking Ladies table.

If I say it out loud then there’s no point in the critics saying it, right?

(I have some pretty deep connections to the preemptive apology, going all the way back to…the beginning of my life, probably.)

These two realizations made me feel sort of despondent, but also sort of annoyed at myself. To clarify my realization, I looked at my Instagram posts about scrapbooking and, yes, they hold true there, too. Decent content, preemptive apologies.

And then, same week, I saw this meme:

Zooey d meme

I had to look up what TV show it’s from, as I didn’t watch it (it’s called New Girl). I don’t even know if I would like the character saying those things. I actually don’t rock polka dots (too trypy for me) and I can’t stand glitter. (I do brake for birds.)

But that stupid meme was an ah-ha for me.

Because, yep: I have touched glitter today. And by "glitter" I mean puffy stickers & pretty paper & alphabet stamps & watercolor paint. Probably somewhere on my hands there’s an ink stain, and probably it is aqua or purple. I have 8 million different script fonts installed on my computer. I have more scrapbooking supplies than I could use in a lifetime and last night I added more to an online shopping cart. I know how to blend markers and which inks are the best for longevity and how to use Photoshop and which photo printing service makes the best prints. I have two bowls full of washi tape, and yes, thanks for asking, they ARE precious to me. (The washi tape rolls and the bowls.) I like being crafty and I like that some of my family photos have meaning because I’ve told their stories.

And none of that makes me weak, lame, silly, pathetic, stupid, or pointless.

Even though in my head I feel weak, lame, silly, etc.

This ah-ha made me ask myself: Who am I preemptively apologizing to? The Queen Bees from high school (who don’t actually follow my social media anyway). The cool guy in my head, an amalgam of mountain biker & motorcycle rider and all the qualities those two identities entail. The bad-ass trail runner girls who are tiny and strong and can knock out twenty miles without even breathing hard. My husband, who tries to be supportive but just really doesn’t understand this aspect of me at all. The alternate version of myself who made different choices and ended up successful in meaningful ways. The friends I used to scrapbook with who don’t scrapbook anymore. And yes, all the ladies at the Cool Scrapbookers table.

I’m sick of preemptive apologies.

I’m sick of feeling embarrassed over the things I love.

I’m almost fifty years old. If now is not the time to exorcise the critical voices in my head, that time will never come at all.

The fact that I try to touch glitter every day doesn’t mean I’m not strong or smart.

It just means that making stuff makes me happy.

And while the truth is that yes: people have, in real life and with their actual voices, said negative things to me about my hobby (some sly and passive-aggressive, some abrupt and openly ridiculing), a good portion of the shame comes from the chorus in my head.

So I have set myself a goal. I actually have been working on this for most of my forties anyway: be who I am. Be instead of perform. I am trying to do this in all aspects of my life, but I haven’t really embraced my crafty self. My scrapbooking self, who has nurtured me through many things.

I’m not going to apologize anymore. I’m not going to feel embarrassed.

I’m going to scrapbook, and I’m going to sometimes share what I make, and I’m not going to say I’m sorry.

And those voices in my head?

They can feel free to unfollow me.


Bright Potential

On Friday, Kendell and I went to the wedding reception of the daughter of one of our couple friends. We’ve been friends with this family for, I don’t know…at least 25 years. This friendship was formed—like so many other friendships and families in this valley—through our being employed at WordPerfect.

I started working at WordPerfect when I was 17 and still a wild child. I went to school during the day (not to my local high school, though, but to the local community college) and then worked from 3:00-9:00, doing data entry. My mom worked there, too, and my sisters, and a year later my friend Cindy (whose dad and brother also worked at WP) would introduce me to her brother, Kendell. WordPerfect had a huge impact on our little valley; it brought so many jobs after the biggest employer, Geneva Steel, began laying off workers in droves. I was young and impressionable and probably pretty stupid when I worked there, but I learned a lot from the (actual, adult) women I worked with.

At Friday night’s reception, I sat at a table with a woman I knew from those WordPerfect days, someone I admired because she seemed so competent. Complete, somehow, a woman with a career that defined her, who seemed entirely comfortable in being who she was.

After I took off my mask, she recognized me; well, actually, she probably only knew me as “Suellen’s daughter,” but she was polite and talked to me like an old friend. She told me about her adult children and her grandchildren, and then she asked me about my life.

“You always seemed like you were so bright and full of potential,” she said. “What have you done with your life since I last saw you?”

And honestly: I couldn’t think of one single thing I could say.

What have I done with my life?

I said something about raising a family and then started talking about my kids. I was surrounded by people so I couldn’t really let her question sink in, but when I woke up on Saturday morning, it hit me.

What have I done with my life?

The Amy she knew—was I bright and full of potential?—was certain she would do amazing things with her life. When I was that person she knew, I was at a huge turning point of my life, when I tried to set down all my rebellious ways and live a “good” life. I pulled on the dress of my religion and tried to wear it like it was a skin, and I tried to wear it for the next 25 years. I was going to be good, and the blessing in being good would be achieving what I wanted to achieve.

Could I have said that?

“Well, I tried to be a good Mormon.”

But she had talked about missions and temple weddings, and if that is the metric one measures “good Mormon” with (and, let’s be frank: it mostly is), then clearly I did not accomplish that goal.

The Amy she knew was determined. Yes: I got married at 19, but I was determined to graduate from college. Eventually I did. Eventually I even got two degrees. Could that be my answer?

“I got an English degree and one in secondary education.”

I know now that a Bachelor’s degree opens some doors, but it is really only a start. After I graduated with my first degree, I wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom. Did I want this only because it was what the LDS faith told me I was supposed to want? That was a part of it, but, no: I loved the time I got to spend as a mom at home with my babies and toddlers. I didn’t want it to end when life made it end anyway, and the fact that what I wanted didn’t seem to matter to God or the Universe or Whoever was so, so bitter to me.

But the truth is, you can only choose one life. It was impossible for me to choose the two things that I wanted: have a family and get a PhD so I could teach literature and writing at a university. (One of my deepest desires.) I know many women actually DO manage those two different choices, but the particulars of my life made it impossible. Or, at least, it seemed impossible. I chose my family, and I love them with all my heart. But there is a part of me that mourns for that Amy who never existed.

So, I guess my response to Barb’s question about what I have done with my life was an accurate one:

I raised a family.

I want this to be enough, but if I am honest with myself, it doesn’t feel like it is. Maybe if I had managed to be a better mother, I would feel like it was enough. But I made so many, many mistakes. There is a saying in the LDS church that people like to repeat: “no success can compensate for failure in the home.” I don’t think I failed, per se. But I could have done so much better than I did.

So here I am. Almost 50, with three adult children and one still in high school. No longer bright, no longer full of potential. What have I done with my life?

I raised four amazing children.

I ran some races, even a couple of marathons.

I hiked a lot of mountains.

I witnessed the suffering and death of both of my parents.

I taught online scrapbooking classes.

I taught high school English.

I wrote some articles for a scrapbook magazine.

I had an essay published in a book.

I became a librarian.

I took a lot of pictures, baked birthday cakes, made meals, did laundry, weeded my flower beds, mowed my lawn.

I helped my husband recuperate from six major surgeries in ten years, not to mention survive a cardiac arrest.

I went to church. I tried to fit in there, tried my best. I taught teenagers and adults some lessons out of the scriptures.

I did a little bit of traveling.

This is the content of an ordinary life. And there is nothing wrong with an ordinary life. It is beautiful, and even if it doesn’t seem like much from the outside, there are many things in that list I am proud of.

But did I fulfill that “bright potential” Barb thought she saw in me?

You know how sometimes time slows down in your head? When she asked me that question, I had that experience. I thought “Oh, God, how do I answer that, I haven’t done anything that would impress someone like her” and my mind flashed through my life and I thought “my truest wish is that I could tell her ‘I am a writer.’”

Then time sped back up to its normal speed and I tried to answer.

Almost 50. The brightest parts of my life in the past. Unsure if I have any potential left.

Was her question a Rorschach test, the first response being the truest?

I know what I want to do with my life. It is the thing I have wanted to do since I was 15 and someone else in my 10th-grade English class stood up and read a poem she had written herself. Since I was 16 and didn’t know what to do with all of the feelings I had, and writing in my journal was one of the only ways I could find to cope. Since I was 10 and read a book I loved and thought I wish I could do that.

How do I do that?

How do I stop wanting to be a writer and actually be a writer?

How do I claim that my other roles—wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend and employee—are important but I want, I want, to do what I have always wanted to do?

Is it selfish?

Is it silly?

How do I convince myself that I deserve to follow the dream I always had for myself? How do I separate what is needed right now (helping Kaleb through high school, saving for retirement, managing the various ways my body is failing, encouraging Jacob to find his way, being helpful to Haley, Nathan, and Elliot) from what I want for the future? (writing that makes me realize: that has always been my problem, putting aside what I wanted for what was needed right now).

How do I find the courage—is it brightness? is it potential?—to say “succeed or fail, writer is where I am focusing my energy”?

Writing this and posting it on my backwater of a blog will not accomplish much. I know the answer: do the work. Try. Don't let the "yeah, but"s get in the way.

But it goes deeper than that. It is about finding courage, yes, but it is about finding that belief I used to have, the belief that I do have potential, that I do have a brightness to offer to the world.

How do I find that belief again?


Thoughts on Remaking

Just a little over 17 years ago, I went out on a run in order to think. In order to make a decision: accept the teaching position that was offered to me or not? On the outside, it didn’t seem like a hard choice. I had just finished up a year of school followed by a semester of student teaching. I had my second degree and my freshly-minted teaching certificate, a tight grip on a sort of surety that through teaching I could make a difference and that I would matter. Why wouldn’t I accept it?

Because in my heart of hearts, and in my discussions with my husband, I didn’t want to go to work. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to walk Jake to kindergarten and walk home with him and Haley in the afternoons. I wanted to drop off Nathan at preschool. I wanted to have lazy afternoons at home helping my kids do their homework. I wanted to have another baby. That was what I wanted.

But what my reality was was that Kendell had just come off of a year of unemployment. He had found a job again, finally, but it didn’t pay much. We were just barely making enough to survive. Me going back to work—even if I had to pay for daycare for two kids on a teacher’s salary—was the best solution.

So I interviewed at several different schools that summer. Down deep, I hoped no schools offered me a job. But, three weeks before school started, one did. And I had to decide: did I chose what I wanted (what I wanted so desperately) or what would seemingly help my family the most?

I took my kids to a friend’s house and I headed out on a run. No music. Just thinking. Just weighing my options. And right as I was running past the library (the library where I now work), I was filled with a certainty: take the job.

Take the job and one day you will understand why.

That day I was prompted to remake myself. To let go of who I wanted to be and to embrace who life was directing me to be. In some ways, I never got over that remaking. I never stopped mourning those lost days of being a stay-at-home mom when Haley was only seven, Jake five, Nathan three. The lazy mornings and after-school afternoons I never got to have with them. The meals I didn’t make and the life-changing stress I didn’t experience.

I did my best to remake myself, until I had the chance to have Kaleb, and I grabbed it. Were the three years I got to stay at home with him a remaking or a reacquainting, a way to try to get back days I could never get back? I don’t know, but eventually I got another opportunity to remake myself when I, on the spurt of a moment, applied for a job at the library when Kaleb was almost three.

That remaking was far less painful, because I could control the choice. I felt like I had a choice, and I chose to do it. I didn’t know I would uncover an identity I hadn’t guessed was in me. I didn’t know I would find my librarian self. But I did, and for the past twelve years I have worked at the library.

I’ve been thinking about that run from 17 years ago a lot, recently. You’ll understand why…I thought I already understood: being a teacher was a sort of gateway into becoming a librarian. That it happened right in front of the library where I would eventually work didn’t feel portentous then, but looking back, I thought what I would understand was just that because I became a teacher I could become a librarian.

But I am wondering if it is something more that I haven’t seen yet. That I will only understand when I look back from some place I cannot yet even catch a glimpse of right now.

Maybe this is the clichéd mid-life crisis, I don’t know.

But I feel like I am reaching another turning point in my life, a hinge that is a decision my life will bend on.

For twelve years I have worked as a librarian. I have been defined as a librarian. I have felt a thrill every time someone asked me what I kind of work I do, and I could answer “librarian.” I have loved it and I have felt like I was doing something that mattered, even if it only mattered to a few people.

But some experiences I have had over the past year or so have stripped me of that feeling—the feeling that my work as a librarian matters and the feeling that I mattered as a librarian within the library where I work.

Unlike that painful, painful choice 17 years ago, to change myself from a stay-at-home mom to a teacher, my reality isn’t really forcing me to make a change. Unlike my choice twelve years ago, I am not stumbling fortuitously into a new career.

Also unlike those other decisions, I am no longer the person I used to be. Along the way, I lost my confidence. In my abilities, in my intelligence, in my sense that I matter. I no longer have the religious faith to believe that if I just work better at being “good” I will be led to an answer or to the desires of my heart.

This choice is on me. This remaking is the one I must accomplish on my own, without serendipity or financial struggles or heavenly promptings.

I can keep working at the library for the next twenty years.

Or I can change.

The world doesn’t care what I do.

I have only one teenager still at home—that baby I wanted so desperately—and while I know you never stop parenting your kids, I am working through the process of understanding how much less they need you as they become adults.  

Do I want to remake myself?

Do I want to stay the same?

How do I remake myself when that confidence and faith I used to have are both gone?

How do I stay the same when faced with the sadness that my recent experiences have brought me?

Do I do what I want? Or do I do what might be best for my family?

Do I choose something more financially secure or do I commit to my writing dreams?

Who do I want to be for the rest of my life?

What part of my reality is set in stone and what part can be changed?

Can I remake myself? With this body that is starting to feel like a pair of worn-out jeans that is just about ready to be left in the bag of one-day-I’ll-make-a-denim-quilt jeans? With this brain that sometimes feels every second of its 48+ years, feels soft and quiet instead of sharp and quick?

If, in 48 years of living, I have come to this place where I am struggling to feel like I have ever mattered, is there any point to seeking out a new direction? Why would I matter in some different situation if I don’t matter in this one?

To be honest, I feel deeply mired in my life. I feel backed into a corner, and it seems like the potential for achieving the ambitions I had for myself is in the past now.

I’m not ready to let go of them, but I also don’t know how to achieve them from this place I have put myself through the choices I’ve made.

How do you remake yourself when you feel entirely lost in the dark?


The Secret Truths about Being a Librarian

My sister Becky and I were talking a few days ago about my job. She wondered if I ever just wander the library stacks, picking out books at random, just because I’m just there, all the time, at the library​.

And here is the truth about being a librarian: You lose some of the magic of libraries when you work at one.

Feb 2020 book stack

Not all of it. I still sometimes have to pinch myself when I realize: I WORK AT A LIBRARY! I get to order books and take care of books and help people find books and talk to people about books.

Being a librarian is, I've decided, a calling more than it is a job. And many librarians are kindred spirits.

But when you love books and then you become a librarian, even though you gain many things, you lose some things, too.

When books are your job, it becomes impossible to separate reading from your work. (Because librarianship is a calling, remember?) Even when you just want to read a book, there is a part of you thinking about that book’s place in the library. Who might you recommend it to? What book list would you put it on? How could you tell more readers about it?

When you work in a library you can't smell the library smell anymore. 

And because I have a to-be-read list that is unimaginably long, I never wander the stacks just looking to see what I might find. I no longer read books serendipitously.

Sometimes, if it's slow at a reference desk and I'm at the end of my librarian patience, I might wander over to the stacks, pull out a book I love, and then read a few pages.

But a TBR this long isn't going to make itself. (Nor are any of the one million tasks librarians do going to do themselves.)

Here's another thing, though. When you work at a library, you see so many books. You discover books while you’re working on your collection. You read book reviews and book websites so you can stay on top of what people are reading. You learn as much as you can about as many different kinds of books as possible, because there’s no way to read every book (nor do I want to), but you do want to help every patron find the book they need or the one they will love.

So all that reading about and researching books? Means as a librarian (a person who already loves books and reading) you fall in love with so many books. And I don’t know if this is true of all librarians, but for me, I want to take them all home. (Even though I know I cannot possibly read everything I want to read.)

I got my current library card in July of 1992 and since then I've checked out almost 8500 items.

I REALLY wish I would've noticed how many I'd checked out when I started working here in 2008, but I bet that two-thirds of those check outs have happened in the past twelve years. Maybe even three-fourths.

Of course, not all of those items are books. I check out a lot of movies and CDs, too. But it’s mostly books.

But here’s another truth about being a librarian: sometimes I get tired.

Really, “frustrated” or “annoyed” might be better words. In some ways it is sort of a stressor: knowing what all of the new and hot books are, and the feeling of wanting to read them (again, not all of them, because I still have my own tastes) and join in on the online/social media conversations. So I bring home more and more books, or my hold list grows longer and longer, and I read two or three books a month and then take the rest back.

(And that’s not even considering the books I buy!)

It is illogical, bringing books I never finish back and forth from the library. Just because I love them. Just because I want to read them. Just because everyone else is reading and talking about them and I want to be included in that conversation.

Dark tower 1
Last week, I was talking to Nathan, who is wanting to read more. I gave him some recommendations and then he asked me about The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.

“I read the first three books in that series and loved them,” I texted him. “But I didn’t finish them.”

My dad and I read the first three books together. I mean…we had our own copies (I think I still have mine), but we read them at the same time and would talk about them. He was delighted by the series and his enthusiasm made reading them even better. He especially liked the lobstrosities and sometimes he’d just say “ded a chek?” to me out of the blue.

After the third book in the series, The Wastelands, King took a break from the series. This break coincided with my wedding, working on my degree, and becoming a mom. My dad picked up the fourth book but I didn’t—I felt like I wanted to read other things then. (OH how I wish I had just read those with him, too.)

I told Nathan that at this point, I haven’t finished the series because it makes me sad to read them without my dad. His response?

“Maybe you can read them with me this go around.”

(He is a good kid.)

Dark tower 3The next day, I put all of the books I had checked out, except two, onto my TBR list (I keep mine on an app called Libib) and then returned them. I suspended all of my book holds (I have 43 on my list, shhhh, don’t judge) and gave myself stern instruction to not add any more. (I have since added more…but only three.)

I set myself a goal: when I finish the two books I am reading right now, I’m going to read The Dark Tower series. I’m going to clean out the cupboard where I think my copies of the first three books are, and buy the rest, and then read them. And talk to Nathan about reading them.

I’ll still pay attention to new releases and hot books and what everyone else on bookstagram is reading.

But I really want to take control back in some way. To not have my reading controlled by what comes on hold for me, or what everyone else is talking about.

Books are about story, of course. About going somewhere in your imagination, about becoming friends with created beings. But they are also about relationships. With the story and the characters, yes, but also with the other people who read them. And they are about making connections with yourself, too—understanding something, or sometimes just something as pleasant as a sentence that makes you feel less invisible in this world.

I want to reconnect, somehow, to that primal love of reading I had when I was reading The Dark Tower series with my dad. Before I learned about literary theory and critical thinking and textual evaluation. I want to be able to read outside of being a librarian, but just as myself.

Reading them with Nathan seems like just the thing.

Dark tower 2


Book Review: Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

It’s been a really long time since I stayed up until the wee morning hours finishing a book.

Like…I don’t even remember. All the Light We Cannot See maybe.

This 40-something woman values her sleep.

But I’ve recently hit a spate of frustrating reading. Books I really want to read but then they don’t grab me. Then I finally found two that did pull me in…but they are both really heavy so I can’t stay inside them for hours at a time.

(This 40-something woman also values her mental health.)

At work on Friday I read a review of a young adult novel and I thought “that sounds good, wonder if we have it?” and we did, and it was on the new book shelf.

So I grabbed it and checked it out and read a few pages at the long stoplight on my drive home and I was hooked. We went on a date Friday night (we saw Trevor Noah’s live show) and Saturday was busy with Saturday stuff, so I didn’t really dive into it until about 9:30, when Kendell fell asleep. I tucked him in and thought “I’ll just read for an hour before I go to bed” and then at 1:45 in the morning I finished it and then went to sleep.

The book? Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli.

Break the fallIt’s a YA gymnastics novel about best friends Audrey and Emma, who are elite gymnasts. The novel opens with the Olympic trials, which Audrey has barely made it to because of a back injury. She’s holding herself together with tape and cortisone and grit, right on the cusp, unsure if she’ll make it or not—nothing is guaranteed, but Emma is pretty much a shoe-in.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Audrey makes the Olympic team, because that is the story, her experiences navigating the month leading up to the Olympics and the Olympic competition itself.

You’d think that considering I stayed up till almost two to finish this, I would do nothing but gush. Have to warn you: the writing here is fine, but isn’t amazing. There are dangling and misplaced modifiers everywhere, and more than once (more than ten times at least) the bars are called some variation of “cylindrical fiberglass” which is totally unnecessary. It feels like there is an entire missing chapter that would make Audrey’s transition between resistance and acceptance of some pretty big changes more understandable, especially as the changes have a huge impact on her Olympics. Plus she has a slight re-injury of her back that must result in a second cortisone shot, but it’s missing from the story. It deals with sexual assault, consent and personal choice, failure, success, betrayal, teenage friendship—lots of big topics!—but manages to stay on the fluffy side.

But I got attached to the characters in about .5 seconds. Is this because I was a gymnast too? I don't think that's only it. They come to life on the page. I especially enjoyed Audrey's budding romantic relationship. 

Also, though: it was just really enjoyable. It pulled me in and I did not want to put it down, even with my objections. In fact, when I finished it and clunked it down on the floor next to my bed I said “Wow! That was really, really fun.”

I’ve been thinking about that response ever since. Deep down I have a pretty endurable thread of guilt over reading. It comes from a lot of different places, my husband’s lack of understanding people wanting to read; all those LDS exhortations to read “only the best books” (which gets translated way too often into the idea that if you’re not reading scriptures or books written by an Important Old White Man you’re not reading the best books); a comment a woman I worked with made to me when I was pregnant with Haley (“You know that once you have your baby you should never spend time reading, just taking care of her”). There’s always the feeling, when I sit down to read, that I should instead be doing something “productive” with my time.

(This makes me appreciate even more the fact that there were so many long weekends when my mom would just leave me alone as a kid and teenager, and I would literally just read. I didn’t feel guilty then.)

So I try to justify my reading time by reading Important Literature. (Add the posh accent in your mind.) I mean…I like reading more literary books anyway. I love a book with beautiful writing and complex plotting, something that makes me think and forces me to challenge my established thought patterns.

But really….does it always have to be serious and complicated and though-provoking?

Can’t it just sometimes be fun?

Of course, all of this is built into everything else that is complicated about being an adult, but really. I’m not just 40-something. I’m rapidly approaching fifty. And if the past decade has taught me anything, it is this: people die. Life is short. I’m almost half a century old—isn’t that old enough to let go of pointless guilt?

I feed my family. I go to work to support them. I clean the house and do the laundry and scrub the freaking toilets. Am I the world’s best mom or wife? Nope. But I take care of my peeps. So why this irrational tug every time I sit down to read?

I’ll let my current favorite meme be my answer (forgive the language but...this is such a tidy summary of how I feel about almost everything right now):

Facebook_1556433222723_10206531957510

And, whoops. Sorry about that tangent. Back to the book: Break the Fall is a fun, fast read about Olympic-level gymnastics. Emphasis on fun. I’m glad I stayed up late reading it!


"Mormon" as a Verb

“Have I left the church?”

This is a question I find myself asking myself a lot lately.

Maybe the fact that I haven’t been to church for over a year is the answer, but it really isn’t that simple.

“Have I left the church?” leads me to a different question: “What would it take for me to start going to church again?”

“But, Amy!” a few people have chided, “It is changing. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Yes. I do want the church to change. I am glad for the changes. But they are all too late for me.

Women able to witness baptisms? Fantastic, except all of my kids are already baptized. I’m happy for all the women who get to have this experience with their children—but I never will.

The changes to the wording in the temple? Great, if you didn’t already experience the old wording. If you didn’t already say it out loud, in your own voice, even if inside your head you were screaming “NO! This isn’t right.” Changing it now doesn’t take away all the years I questioned my responses, wondered what was wrong with me, squelched my own questioning nature in an effort to be “good.” Even my own mother—when, after I went through the temple for the first time, a friend asked me what I thought, and I said “I think it was weird and surreal and I’m afraid to go back”—even my own mom was so conditioned that the temple is glorious and amazing and perfect that she said “Amy, you shouldn’t say things like that.”

No one has to wait for a year to be sealed in the temple if they have a civil ceremony. I am so glad they made this change—but it doesn’t let me go back in time so I can have a civil ceremony where my dad, sisters, best friend Chris, one surviving grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins can see my wedding. It doesn’t dissolve the ache I have for that one basic fact—my own dad wasn’t allowed to come to my wedding.

The subtle changes to the Exclusion Policy? They don’t change the fact that it never should’ve existed in the first place. Nor help me understand how people twisted into such verbal gymnastics to show that they agreed with it, and then when it was changed, agreed with the changes. Most importantly, it doesn’t unhurt any of the people it hurt, especially (for me) my daughter.

Then there is the “using the word Mormon is a victory for Satan” charge. And the time, effort, and shaming that went into trying to disassociate the church from the word “Mormon.” You know, when things like Australia burning and California burning and kids in cages at the U.S. border and animal extinction and earthquakes and poverty all sorts of disasters that affect human life (that I believe Christ wants us to help with) are happening—we’re using emotional energy (not to mention the cost of marketing and changing everything so that the word Mormon is less visible) on a word?

What if everything changed? What if women were given the priesthood and we could bless our own children with our own voices and anointed hands? (Or what if we could even just stand and hold the baby in the blessing circle?) What if the markers of acceptance didn’t matter—what if people could wear as many earrings as they wanted without shame, what if a tattoo was seen as art and personal choice rather than body defilement, what if everyone could be accepted, the beer drinkers and the women in flip flops? Teenage boys in blue plaid button ups? What if the church said “Joseph Smith was a man who made mistakes, especially about polygamy"? What if the sealing practices weren’t painful to all but those with perfect families not impacted by divorce or death? What if the church stopped covering up sexual abuse? What if, despite prophetic declarations, the prophets could say "we made a mistake and are sorry about the pain it caused"?

What if all of the changes I so desperately wish could be made were made?

Mostly, it would still be too late. I will never bless my own sick child. I will never get back the experience of really being sealed to my dad.

When I start asking my question—have I left the church?—I start thinking about a realization I had a couple of years ago. I went for a girls’ weekend away with my friends Jamie and Wendy. They are friends I met through church, but not church friends. (People who can still see you as a friend once you stop going to church are few; Wendy and Jamie are two of mine. The Mcallisters. My friend Julie. Everyone else I was friends with because of church is no longer are involved in my life, because our friendship—and this is mutual, I’m not placing blame—was based not on real, actual friendship but on going to church together.) That weekend at a cabin in southern Utah was lovely; we hiked and ate and relaxed and laughed together.

But it was my first time doing something with them that wasn’t a church activity (strange as that sounds), and it made me realize something. Wendy and Jamie are Mormons. They mormon all the time. Hiking, eating, laughing, relaxing: all of it was focused on the practices and beliefs of an LDS person. For me, this highlighted my own connection to my religion, because I don’t mormon all the time. (I didn't.)

That weekend was when I really started to understand how I was wearing the church, but it wasn’t my skin.

It was a performance, a thing I did because I thought I had to. To be loved, to be accepted, to be good enough.

I wrote once about the church being a dress I pulled over my naked—my true—self. And how it had chafed me.

Since that time, I have not changed. I mean—I have changed, in many ways. But what hasn't changed, what has propelled me to make the other changes, is the desire to be loved or accepted for who I am. To feel like I am enough. Not because I don't want to continue to work, to improve, to be a better person. I do. But, for me where I am, here in my late forties, an orphan, almost an empty nester: at this point in my life, I am done pretending. I am done acting. I am done with needless bloody wounds. If my true self isn't good enough, that's not going to change. So I am embracing (or, learning to embrace) who and what my true self is.

As see it, not as an old white male church leader thinks I should be.

Not going to church for over a year, turning the mountains into my chapel, energy drinks and trail mix into my sacrament: these are some of the methods I’ve used to help myself take off the dress. The chafing has started to heal.

But there will always be scars, and what I mean by that wrought metaphor is that while I am not going to church right now, and I am deeply concerned, hurt, and bothered by many things in the church, it is also a part of who I am. It is long, deep scars on my true self, but there is also beauty in it, too. Memories of friendships and activities I did with my kids; even though they are complicated by doubt and frustration, the memories of their sacred days are valuable to me still.

Have I left the church?

In a sense, I can’t. I can’t because the church can’t leave me.

Will I ever go back to church? I am not sure, but maybe this is only because I am afraid to say “no.” Maybe because I am not ready to draw a line in the sand. Maybe because I don’t ever have to draw the line, because despite the chafing and the bloody dress and all that heartache, anger, doubt, despite it all there is still a hope in me.

A hope that I could take my authentic, scarred, naked, real self to church and be accepted.

If that could happen, I might go back.


Thoughts from a Shadow Dancer

A memory I thought of this morning:

In the 90s, there was a short story magazine called Story. It was a beautiful publication, bound like a paperback rather than a magazine, with heavy cardstock covers and thick paper. I’m not sure how I found it, but once I did, I subscribed to it and when it came in the mail I would read the whole thing. This was during the years when I was a newlywed and then when we were building our house.

In one issue, the first one that came to my mailbox at our new house, there was an advertisement: Story was having a contest. You could submit your work and if you won, your story would be published.

I wanted to have a story published in that literary magazine. I wanted a copy of it, with my name in the table of contents and my words printed on that thick paper.

And at that point, I was always writing stories, so I finished and polished the one I thought was best, printed it, and got it ready to mail.

But that’s not really the memory. Honestly, I’m not even sure what story I sent in. The memory that surfaced is different, and more painful.

There was a five dollar submission fee to enter the contest. Five dollars is not a big deal, but right then—when we’d put literally every single penny of our savings into our house—it felt like a big deal.

More than that, though, was that I didn’t want to write a check for $5 because I didn’t want to have to explain it to Kendell.

I literally never talked to him about my writing aspirations. Just the thought of it made me blush. (Literally…not the sexy blush, the ugly one.)  Writing—the act itself, as well as the idea that I might think I could be successful at it—has always felt a little bit…shameful to me. Like it’s a cute aspiration a child might have, but not a grown up in the adult world. I didn’t want to tell my mom about it either, or my friends; it isn’t only true in my marriage, but everywhere. “I want to be a writer” is both my deepest, longest desire and the one that embarrasses me the most.

So I didn’t want to tell my husband what I was doing. Part of me imagined my story winning and then showing it to him as a surprise. Part of me imagined my story not winning, and if he knew I’d submitted it I’d have to tell him it didn’t win, and how awful would that be? If I didn’t tell anyone, I could avoid the embarrassment altogether.

So I drove to the grocery store and used cash to buy a money order.

And that is the memory I came to this morning, after my sister-in-law shared this article on her Facebook page: sitting in the car (we had a Honda Accord then and it was my favorite car we ever owned) in the Macey’s parking lot, putting my submission together, full of hope and also of embarrassment and not able to put into words then how much hurt was involved in that hoping. I licked the manila envelope, fastened the clasp, and drove to the post office, trying not to cry.

Why that memory this morning? Because of something from that article. It’s about how women in their 50s should do something new or big, something life-changing. It divides women of this “certain age” into three categories: the retirement pushers, the I’m-just-a-moms, and the shadow dancers. I am a shadow dancer:

In their 20’s, these women labeled their dreams as foolish, and chose related (but sensible) careers, instead. (I chose Marketing Manager over author at 20. Just in case I wasn’t Hemingway….) The shadow dancer’s dream has never died; but a little bit of her soul has, every day.

Because, of course my story didn’t win the contest. Of course it didn’t; I was young and full of dreams and ambition but not much skill or knowledge. Since it was a contest, I didn’t even get a rejection letter. Just waning hope at the mailbox. (That is much, much worse than a rejection letter.)

During those years, before I had kids, I wrote a lot. I read Writer’s Digest and I submitted a ton of things. I had one poem accepted in The Daily Universe, BYU’s student paper (even though I wasn’t a student there yet), but that was it for success. Then I had Haley, and I started working on my undergrad degree, and I had professors tell me things like “I’ll be lucky if I find one real writer in my entire career as a professor” and “don’t get your hopes up about being a writer because most of you won’t succeed.” I read over and over, in different spaces and approaches, that success as a writer is basically impossible.

So I did exactly what that article describes: I chose more sensible things. I didn’t keep pushing and get a PhD like I had originally wanted. Instead, I taught high school English and then I became a librarian.

That dream didn’t go away. I’ve blogged, I’ve written for scrapbook magazines. I had an essay published in an anthology and a few in some LDS publications.

But life just chipped away at that thing I had in my early twenties, the absolute belief (even if it was tinged with embarrassment) that if I tried hard enough, I would be a writer.

And let’s be honest: I haven’t tried hard enough.

I let the shame overwhelm the belief.

I let sensible take the place of ambitious.

And I just carried it around.

I never stopped wanting to be a writer. I never stopped filling up with envy when I went to a book reading or signing or I met a writer in any form. I never stopped reading and thinking “I want to do what this person does.”

But I didn’t do it.

I made a life with my children and it has been a good life. I love them. I am grateful I got to be a mom and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I’m grateful for the years I got to be a stay-at-home mom, short as they were. I get to work at a place that I love and I get to use the knowledge I gained from my degrees to help people.

But, here’s another truth: the shame is still here. The embarrassment. How dare I still carry around this dream? How could I think that I would be successful at writing, when so many others have tried and failed? There is also shame at not trying, too. And at the fact that maybe I am selfish for even my sensible choices, because it’s not like I’ve achieved any sort of financial success by working part time at the library.

But I also am not that girl in the Accord in the grocery store parking lot. I can at least find the words to describe what I am feeling. I have more to say than I could that day in my car, because of what life has brought me, good and bad.

I want to do what that article describes. Take a big, bold step. Reclaim that glittering, positive hope I used to have. I don’t want to be held back anymore by shame and embarrassment.

I just don’t know how to take the step, because even as I consider it—and I have been seriously considering it, the next step which would be getting an MFA—I am again filled up with worry. All these years I’ve worked as a teacher and then a librarian, I haven’t really been contributing much to my family, at least not monetarily. And now I want to use more money to get a degree that has a teeny, tiny silver of the possibility of success?

It feels selfish.

And that feels shameful.

The shame makes me go back to the sensible. Maybe instead of an MFA I should get a Library Science master’s. Or do something different. Law school? High school councilor? A total change—nursing? Hospital chaplain?

I could do those. I could choose something that makes more money.

I could stay where I am and change nothing.

But the tug is still there—the one that has tugged me since tenth grade, when, in my honors English class, another girl shared a poem she had written. She didn’t seem embarrassed. She read it in front of the whole class. And I thought—wait. We can do that? Not write, I was already writing. But share. Without shame.

That would be big. It would be bold to say “I am still worth pursuing what I have always wanted to do.” Because I only get one life, and I have this life right now, and that is it. I have years left, but not as many.

I want to be ready, and maybe that wanting is the thing that will make me actually be ready?

I want to give myself permission.


2009-2019: A Summary of a Decade

I love how, on social media, so many people are using the end of the decade to look at how their lives have changed in ten years. Comparing changes over time is a thing I am fascinated by and I like the way a designated span of time—here, the construct of a decade, but really, it can be anything—helps you see experiences in a different light.

Card
December 2009 family photo

But every time I thought about doing it for myself I felt a little bit frustrated. Here is the list I was making in my head about what has happened in the past ten years:

  • The litany of Kendell’s surgeries. At the end of 2009 he was starting to feel recuperated from his first heart surgery; after that he had two more heart surgeries, cardiac arrest, gall bladder removed, deviated septum repaired, a knee replacement.
  • All of our parents passed away.
  • Kendell graduated from college.
  • Haley, Jake, and Nathan all graduated from high school. Kaleb finished elementary school and started junior high.
  • Haley graduated from college.
  • Kaleb was diagnosed with his heart issue, a bicuspic aortic valve with an aortic bulge.
  • Each of my Bigs had their first significant romantic relationships.
  • I went to countless events for my kids. Soccer, basketball, and volleyball games. Choir concerts, orchestra concerts. Track meets.
  • Also countless: how much we used our health insurance. Kids’ broken bones, trips to the doctor or ER for stitches, and different illnesses. Nathan had shingles, Jake was treated for depression and anxiety, and all of us were in a long-term relationship with our dermatologist.
  • Jake, Haley, and Nathan all started wearing glasses. They also survived braces.
  • We had some family vacations: Disneyland more than once, Yellowstone, California beaches, Hawaii, Florida.

As I thought about my list, what hit me was how I was framing myself: in the context of everyone else. The big things feel like the ways I have helped and been involved with the people I love, and I do love them. Helping them and taking care of them and cheering them on is a huge part of my identity and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. But I was frustrated—and, frankly, startled—by how my first instinct was to think more of the experiences in other people’s lives than the experiences that I had. This train of thought at first took me to a sort of dark place. Sometimes it feels like, when you’re deep into your midlife years, the only exciting things left in your life are things that happen to other people. Things you are proud of them for accomplishing, or joyful for them being blessed in that way, but it is all other people’s experiences.

That left me feeling fairly…well, probably there is a German or Swedish word for “the feeling you have when you realize all of your big life experiences are past and all you have to look forward to is aging” but I don’t know what it is.

But then I took a deep breath and tried to think: wait. I also had experiences over the past decade that were MY experiences. That happened to me. Maybe they are smaller experiences, but they are still valuable. And even though there is this voice in my head saying it’s selfish of me to want to highlight my experiences over my family members’ (because isn’t that what a woman and a mother is supposed to do? Define herself in the context of the people she loves and not think about who she is outside of those relationships?), I’m still going to list them. It’s still valuable to celebrate the experiences the Universe brought ME over the past decade:

  • I got to visit Europe twice. Italy and then a whirlwind tour of England+Belgium+The Netherlands+Paris. It’s barely enough Europe but here’s a whole new decade that I hope includes much more travel.
  • I got to see so much art. I stood in front of Van Gogh’s paintings and wept because beauty can still come from darkness. I stood in front of Michelangelo's Slaves and felt understood by the world. I fell in love with obscure paintings for entirely personal reasons. I have always loved art but in this decade I got to experience it rather than only seeing it in books.
  • I went to New York City twice. For this person who is thoroughly From The West, New York was thrilling and exciting and enlightening and terrifying and like a whole different place.
  • I went running on beaches on both the Pacific and the Atlantic. I ran in Niagara Falls, Amsterdam, and Paris. I did a half marathon in New York and one in Denver. So long as I can run and travel I will always pack my running shoes.
  • I traveled to Mexico (Cabo San Lucas), Washington, Hawaii, California, Colorado, South and North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I am far from a world traveler but I got to see a lot this decade. San Francisco, Seattle, and Charleston are cities I got to walk around in and, as funny as it sounds, I can now say I can get around in a city if it has decent public transportation.
  • I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite. This was a significant turning point for my hiking confidence.
  • I got to be reunited with Elliot, the baby I placed for adoption in 1990.
  • I ran two full marathons and 8-10 half marathons, and many, many miles. I actually started running at the turn of a decade, in 2000, so this year marks my 20th year of running. I’m not always as consistent as I should be, but I am always in love with running.
  • I hiked. I hiked a lot. I fell in love with hiking and I found I have always loved the mountains but actually moving upon them has fulfilled me in so many ways. I’d hiked a little bit by the end of 2009, but 2010-2020 was a decade of hiking.
  • I healed from several running injuries. The two worst were my ankle sprain at the 2012 Ragnar and my torn femoral condyle which led to a cascade of knee issues. I also worked through a nagging hamstring strain (which was tied not to nothing physical but to the emotional struggles I was having at the time; once some situations with my kids got better, the hamstring pain stopped) and years of sacroiliac back pain. I also broke my finger, which wasn’t a running injury.
  • Both of my parents died. Yes, that happened to them, but it also happened to me. I’m an orphan and I’m also now the oldest generation. A co-matriarch with my two sisters.
  • I had a very few pieces of my writing published. (This is the thing I want to change the most over the next decade.)
  • I became a brand ambassador for Skirt Sports.
  • I taught the teenage Sunday School classes at church; I also taught Relief Society (the women’s organization) and doctrine classes. I’m grateful for those opportunities I had to teach.
  • My relationship with my church (I am a Mormon, if now far, far on the fringe) has changed utterly in the past decade. This has been painful; a time of mourning. But it has also freed my soul from some very unnecessary fetters of guilt. I am now trying to understand what my spirituality looks like. I think this will be a process I experience my whole life.
  • I fell in love with national parks. I got to visit Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Congaree, and all of the Utah parks. I hope 2020-2030 will include many more fridge magnets.
  • I have learned—am continuing to learn—what it means to be the mom of adult children. It is far different than I imagined, in both difficult and amazing ways. I am excited to see what their upcoming decade brings them, too.
  • I worked at the library. I became a librarian, in fact. This is the longest job I’ve held in my life. It is sometimes frustrating (working with the public can be exhausting) and my small salary makes me feel a great deal of guilt and anxiety, but I love my job. It has brought me some of my closest adult friends and given me some amazing opportunities to interact with and learn from people. And of course brought me to so many books. I never imagined myself as a librarian but it really is perfect.
  • I read books. I guess I could go back and count how many, but I'm not going to. I didn't write about every book I read, I didn't love every one. But so many of them have helped me in different ways.
  • I made a lot of things. I wrote hundreds of blog posts and made even more scrapbook layouts. I cooked meals and baked cookies and pies and cakes. I made quilts for my kids and my house and for other people’s babies. I wrote poems and journal entries and essays. I planted and nurtured my flowers. I hope I also made my relationships stronger and nurtured the people I love.

Making this list makes me wonder, of course: what will the next decade bring? In ten years, what will my list look like? I have many hopes. Maybe I should write that list down, too. The things I hope 2020-2030 will bring me. But I’ve also learned that life is always throwing unexpected things at you, and so there will be many things that happen in the next decade I can’t even imagine now. Right now, I am trying to reach back in time to that Amy at the end of 2009 and tell her…tell her what? That things will be harder than she knows but there will also be so many good things, maybe. And I am also trying to reach forward to the Amy I will be in December of 2029 to hear what she can tell me.

But I bet it’s the same advice. Things will be hard. Things will be wonderful. And all I can do is savor and experience and act and create and love.

Family photo 2019
Family photo 2019

Thoughts on Beautiful Bodies

I was waiting in line at Costco in my exercise clothes today—

and before you think “oh, hell, what is wrong with you? wearing your exercise clothes everywhere?” (and by “you” I mean, sure, whomever is reading this, but also the uptight voice in my head that says stuff like that to keep me in my place, to remind me that there are rules and wearing your exercise clothes everywhere is a clear violation of Modesty or Social Fashion Rules or just Plain Old Personal Pride in your Appearance), let me explain that sometimes I like to run to somewhere. So if Kendell and I are going to, say, Costco, I’ll leave 45 minutes or so before him, run there, stretch for a bit, and then go to Costco with him when he gets there in the car. Doing that helps keep running fresher for me because then it wasn’t my same old route around the park.

Before I got to Costco, I finished at Starbucks, because it has a railing that is the perfect height for stretching. It was chilly and when I stopped running and breathing hard, I could smell the cold, new snow on Timp, mixing with that coffee smell, and I stretched and I was smiling because I was thinking, again “I just really love running, I’m so glad I went.” I had an intrusive thought: all those coffee drinkers in Starbucks probably think you’re weird stretching out here but I shushed it because I was happy and grateful and just the right amount of hot from running and cooled by the wind and because sometimes that runner’s high is subtle but so delicious.

Anyway.

I wanted to run somewhere, so I ran to Starbucks where Kendell picked me up and then we went to Costco (which is on the far north side of the same parking lot). We gathered our stuff—milk, zucchini, a new bath towel just because there was a coupon and the soft minty green one was pretty, some chocolate caramels even though I’m not supposed to eat chocolate—and had a few samples, and then I was waiting in line.

An older woman (I learned during the course of our conversation that she is 68) got in line behind me. She said, “I hope this doesn’t sound strange, but I think you have a beautiful body. I mean, I love your cute outfit (I had on THIS rad plaid capri with a skirt), but really, your body is gorgeous.” And then she hugged me.

This could’ve been a weird experience. OK: it was slightly weird for a stranger to tell me I have a beautiful body. But, I confess I hugged her back.

Because life has been a little bit brutal lately. (When will life stop being a little bit brutal?)

Because perimenopause is a bitch. A bitch who’s added a layer of belly fat I can’t seem to shake. Well—that’s not entirely true. I can shake it, and that’s part of the problem. I don’t want it to shake. I want it go just go away.

Because I’m trying to deal with a medical issue that’s not lethal but is really annoying and sometimes painful enough to send me to the ER.

Because I spent the morning mourning.

Because I really don’t feel beautiful, or strong, or powerful these days. I feel like I am a wrinkled lady with greying hair who’s lost her way and maybe wasted her life. (Except the kids. The kids were never a waste. I love them.)

This woman in line behind me at Costco continued talking to me. She talked about how women should take care of their bodies so they are healthy until they die. She talked about how she didn’t learn that until she was 65, but in the past three years she’s turned it around and is taking care of her body. She told me that I need to take especial care to keep my glutes strong.

Then I paid for my stuff and she said “don’t forget your glutes!” and then I thanked her and told her to take care of her own glutes. Then I left Costco.

I’m still a chubby, middle-aged woman who can run but not very fast, with disproportionate thighs (or maybe my waist is the problem?) and a softening waistline. I’m still annoyed at myself to find that I am here, at 47, still trying to figure out my life.

I still don’t know how to believe her that I have a beautiful body.

But I felt like The Universe was paying attention to me today. Not because of beauty, strength, speed, strong abs, or a cute running skirt. But because The Universe knew I needed to feel loved.

And for a little while I did.


Thoughts on Critical Thinking

“Can you see if you have this book?” a patron asked me one night last week.

Obviously I get asked that question often, but this interaction is lingering in my memory.

“Sure,” I said. “What are you looking for?”

She asked for the sequel to Rachel Hollis’s self-help book.

As I looked up the title and put her on the hold list (16 other people were waiting to read it that night), I listened to her gush about how Girl, Wash Your Face had changed her life, and how excited she was to put what she’d learned into action, and how certain she was that the sequel would be even more helpful.

And then she asked me the question I was hoping she wouldn’t. “Have you read it? Didn’t you just love it?”

I told her I had read some of it, but didn’t finish it, and tried to leave it at that, but she insisted. “You’ve got to check it out again!” she said. “It will change your life. I can’t believe everyone’s not reading it!”

She left the reference desk feeling happy, even if she did have to wait, partly because I'm a professional librarian. I knew that telling a Rachel-Hollis fangirl how I really feel about those books would’ve been a disaster. Pointing out the flaws in the book to her would've only annoyed her, because if she can't see them herself then it's just my opinion.

To be fair, I only read the first chapter of the first book. I didn’t continue for two reasons: 1. The writing tone. I couldn’t spend hours and hours with that chirpy, upbeat, faux-hood writing style. 2. The message itself. I went to a couple of Amway meetings in my 20s. That was enough. The focus on getting and spending—the expensive bags, the second house in Hawaii, the trendy shoes—is not how I choose to focus my efforts in my life. Her message is that the lies we tell ourselves hold us back, which is true, but I think “having expensive possessions brings happiness” is also a lie. I realized with that first chapter that I have no interest in getting coached by a person whose basic values are vastly different from mine, who earned her expensive purses through party planning, who actively self identifies as a “lifestyle influencer.”

But I didn’t share any of that with the library patron that night, not because I don’t feel passionately about it, but because I have come to understand that not many people are able to read critically. (I also understand that for many readers, this isn’t the point of reading.)

By “critically” I don’t mean “in a way that expresses disproval.” I mean the second definition, “analysis of the merits and faults of a work of art, literature, movie, or music.”

Merits and faults.

One of the reasons I love reading, and continue to read, is critical thinking. It is one of the things I loved about teaching: having a group of people to interact with in a discussion about a book, an essay, a poem. I like reading for story, of course, and to get to know characters and to enter a setting. But I also like thinking about (and writing about and, if we’re ever at a meal together, talking about) what the story means, how the characters make mistakes, the way the book influences and changes me. Not in a get-more-expensive-purses kind of way, but in a understand-something-difficult-about-the-world kind of way.

In essence, that is why I can’t bring myself to read books like Rachel Hollis’s: because they are obliviously lacking critical viewpoints. They are unable to allow for differences in life experiences, desires, and opportunities. They assume that everyone wants a Hollywood kind of life.

But Hollis’s books aren’t even the reason I sat down to write this today. They are just an example of why critical thinking is important to me.

Because I feel like it is time to bring some of those critical thinking skills to my own life, not just to the books I read.

As I wrote in my last post, I am trying to experience this autumn season with intent. I want to feel things and to experience them, rather than only looking as if through a window. “Looking as if through a window”: this is how I feel I have been living my life for many years. It has to do with the choices I’ve made, the people in my life and their choices, the ways I have chosen to wall myself off. It is about how I feel like I always have to acknowledge: yes I know I am different from you. It comes from seeing my differences and feeling ashamed of them, wondering why I don’t fit in, instead of being able to be who I am.

I want to be who I am.

The God’s honest truth is that I haven’t been really, honestly happy in…I’m not sure how long. I love my people but I keep bumping up against the reality that my life doesn’t feel like the life I need. And when I write something like that, I am flooded with doubt. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to be selfish. I love my children and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I love my husband. But there are flaws here. And I am realizing: life is short. Life is so, so short. I’m nearing fifty and I still haven’t done many of the things I intended on doing.

And of course I can just continue here. I can keep on with my average life. I can do it until I die.

But deep down, I want change. I am craving change. I am wanting to be more than the quiet, stunted person I’ve made myself into, the one pretending. It isn’t only about church anymore. It is about everything. Maybe it is because I am at the end of my years of mothering. I still get to have an influence on Kaleb for a few more years, and I am learning how (thank goodness) being a mother doesn’t ever, in a sense, really end. But the hardest years of daily care are past, and now, for the first time since I was 23, I can ask myself: what do I want?

What shape do I want the rest of my life to take?

I can’t find the answer in a self-help book. I can’t even find the answer in the fiction and poetry I love.

I can only find the answer by myself, and that is both liberating and terrifying. I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it within the current shape of my life. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don't want to burn it all down. But I am also starting to realize that I can matter, too. Is that selfish?

Here I am: a frumpy woman with stiff knees, nearing 50. What have I done with my life? What will I do with the life I have left? I suppose everyone faces and answers that question every day of their lives. I have answered it so far in part by doing what other people told me I should do. Which is like reading a book and loving it only because the story was good, rather than for the wrestle with new thoughts it caused. And I’ve been doing that for too long.

It is time to wrestle.