A Choice that Bolsters All of Us: My Thoughts on Simone Biles and The Tokyo Olympics Team Gymnastics Competition

During my last season of gymnastics (four months of meets and intense training for those meets, stretching from January to my birthday in April, 1987), my closest teammate had a mental block. Her beam routine included a front flip, and for whatever reason, she became afraid of doing it. As I had my own block (the round off on my beam dismount) I had all sorts of empathy for her. As meets grew closer she would grow more and more anxious, but she always showed up to the meets and almost always nailed that front flip. But then, once in practice, she fell and injured her shin. She got x-rayed and since there was no break, she got taped up and kept going. That’s what gymnasts do.

AmyGymnastics11But as the qualifying meet grew closer, she struggled more. Then, at the start of one of our workouts during the week before the meet, the beam coach gathered us all to sit on the floor. She had this teammate stand in front of us, and told us what she’d done. At school a few days before, she’d walked through the halls, asking boys to kick her on her injured shin. Our coach didn’t explain why she might’ve done this, but she did say it was a disgusting thing to do; if she ever heard of anyone else doing such a thing they were now warned that they would be kicked out. This teammate was only being allowed to stay because no one had ever expressly had to say “don’t try to make your injury worse by having others hurt you.”

My teammate sat down next to me and I put my arm around her shoulder, but we could both hear the other gymnasts whispering. “Weird” and “creepy” and “gross” and “what’s wrong with her?” But as I had already also discovered self-harm, I didn’t have that response. Mostly I was grateful to know that I wasn’t the only one who was weird and gross in the same way.

The season continued, my teammate’s shin stayed taped, I never did get over my fear of my round off dismount. It was one of the reasons I got second in the all-around on my life’s last meet, instead of first like I was supposed to. Like real winners do. I did win first on bars, which was my favorite and best event, so I was OK because my beam coach was already disappointed in me, but my bars coach still had some respect.

After that meet, my teammate and I both left gymnastics. You’d think we’d stay friends, but somehow we didn’t. (I have searched for her on social media more than once and haven’t found her. I’ve also changed some of the details of her story, just in case.)

This story is both unique and commonplace. Unique in its details but commonplace because every gymnast has a similar story. More than one. Things that happened to them, things that happened to their teammates. I’m telling her story because it greatly affected my outcome as well, in ways I am still trying to understand.

Because here’s the thing: gymnastics is a complicated sport. It’s not just about back handsprings and front flips, Yurchenkos and Tkatchevs, wolf turns and triple pirouettes. It requires an enormous amount of mental energy to get your body to do things normal people would never try. You have to conquer rational fear and then train your body to work towards defying gravity for a few seconds, twisting or flipping all the while. With pointed toes and smile.

It is also politics: not everyone gets the same level of attention from coaches.

Who had the most expensive leotards. Whose parents put the most money into the booster club. Whose enormous cabin could be used for team retreats. Who the coaches like the best and think have the most potential (usually the ones with the richest parents). Who’s been loyal to the club for the longest. Who is most likely to do great things like become Elite or get a college scholarship or make it to Nationals. Who is willing to try anything, doesn’t express fear, does everything the coaches tell her to do.

Despite that, it’s also the deep connections you make with your teammates. The way you know the history of their injuries and how to tape them if a coach isn’t around. You know your teammates’ floor routines as well as they do. You cheer for them even knowing it means their win is your loss, because it also means their success is a win for the team.

I loved my decade in gymnastics. I learned skills that I still use today: perseverance, toughing it out, encouraging others, bravery. A sense of my body within the world and a sort of confidence that still helps me keep my head up. How to tape a sprained ankle and how to care for a deep bloody blister. A precise cartwheel.

But I also carry some pretty good scars. Self-doubt. Despair over every ripple and lump and extra pound on my body. Guilt that my parents paid so much for my gym time and then I didn’t get a scholarship like my mom so desperately wanted me to. A bone-deep shame. The ever-present feeling that I was destined for greatness but I didn’t get it because I was a coward, even while I’m the first to acknowledge that I was never going to be an Olympian or even an Elite. I was a mediocre gymnast who never conquered her dismount fear; I was the support staff whose time, fees, and body supported the real winners.

All of those feelings, positive and negative, are still here in my body.

So when I watch gymnastics, I always cry. My body remembers exactly how it felt to move in some of those ways. I wish I could still move in those ways, could still be lithe and strong and graceful. My psyche remembers the negatives, the bloody hands and wrists, the shame of not being great like those girls on TV are.

But I’ve never cried like I did last night, watching the Tokyo Olympics team round and Simone Biles walking off the floor.

***

Kendell walked in and caught me crying and asked me why. I couldn’t explain for a bit because the lump in my throat was so large.

After her vault, when she is talking in that rushed way with her teammates, Simone says “I don’t trust myself.”

That was when I started crying.

Simone Biles does some amazing gymnastics. She is strong, talented, and skilled, but no matter what it still takes bravery to do what she does.

Unless you have been a gymnast, it is hard to understand how brave she was to do what she did at the team competition.

All of those entwining emotions that go into gymnastics. The idea that your body must be sacrificed on the altar of gold medals. The way your coach can humiliate you by simply seeing you make a mistake you shouldn’t have. The way you both support and lean upon your teammates. Not to mention the fierce public eye, which must feel like it is always on her.

As a gymnast, you do your routines and your moves, you compete because at one point you loved this sport. It was fun and it brought you bliss, learning how to flip and spin without getting (too) injured. Defying gravity without a space suit. Dancing across the floor in a sparkly leo. That joy stays with you, but it isn’t always there. For coaches, for gymnastics clubs, it’s still a business. It’s still and always about winning, the work of winning, not about the joy of moving your body. It’s not completely or even mostly about you as a person or as an athlete, but about you as a winner. You are really, simply grist.

So there is Simone, at the Olympics. The Olympics team competition. There she is, and she is struggling. In an invisible way, in a way you can’t tape or stitch together, a way you can’t shake off. In her head. In her gymnastics self, which knows how to do the things she does with her body, she cannot make that connection.

Everyone knows the stories. Everyone thinks of Kerri Strugg doing her second vault despite her ankle injuries. Gymnasts just go on, anyway.

By withdrawing from the competition, Simone Biles did something so mind-blowingly brave. So brave.

By walking away, she said that she would not risk her body for anyone. Not for her teammates, who I know she loves. Not for her country, who loves her. Not for her coaches, who helped her get to that point. Not for that gold medal. Not for fame or adulation or endorsements.

Because her mental game was not there, she knew she was risking her body if she continued. And she was brave enough to break the gymnastics rule that says “you must always risk your body.”

That was why I cried while I watched it. Because I know how much courage that took. And because I know most of the world will not understand it, and will say awful things about her.

Because taking care of your own body as a gymnast is only supposed to be something you do to become a winner, not to not compete.

***

Many people will write about what happened in gymnastics during this Olympics. My contribution to this discussion is miniscule. But all night, I couldn’t sleep. I was full of…something. Both dread and awe. The memory of my teammate’s bruised shin. When I slept I dreamed round offs turning into cartwheels, over and over. 

But I am still adding this little bit. My voice to this conversation, because something shifted in me, watching her last night. Honestly, she’s never been my favorite gymnast (no one will ever replace Julianne McNamara for that spot in my heart), but that doesn’t matter. Last night, her bravery gave me just a tiny bit of grace for myself. For that part of me who is still 15, still facing down that dismount with my taped-up ankle and tiger claws on my wrists and perpetual wounds on my palms, who was lithe and strong and graceful but who boiled in shame anyway. The coaches and the teammates and even my parents couldn’t quite give me that grace to say I was anything worthwhile. I wasn’t great enough to matter, so what I did do was pointless: that feeling was what stretched and started to dissolve a bit, last night.

I wasn’t an Olympian. I didn’t earn a scholarship. I was a lowly class II gymnast. I didn’t sacrifice hard enough, I didn’t give enough, I wasn’t enough: I have carried that feeling for my whole life.

Her decision last night helped it weigh a little bit less.

Her decision bolsters all gymnasts.

In that moment, she chose what was right for her. That is never allowed in gymnastics, but she did it. Her choice tells us that we matter. Not because of medals or scholarships or rankings, but because we are individuals with bodies in the world. Because she matters—as a person, not as a medal winner—the rest of us matter too.

And it is why—not because of the five moves named after her—that she will always be the greatest of all time.


"And Yet You Will Weep and Know Why": Thoughts on My Dad

Yesterday I listened to a scrapbooking podcast while I worked in my flowerbeds. The topic was documenting your dad’s stories, and as I listened I had some realizations. The timing was odd for me, as it is June, which holds both his birthday and Father’s day, when I already think about my dad more than usual. This July marks a decade since his death, but since he had an undiagnosed type of dementia, he has been “gone” for much longer…I think we had our last semi-real and meaningful conversation in 2006.

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A few days ago, I was at the grocery store, and in the produce section I realized I must’ve come at the grandparent hour, as I was surrounded by old people. Mostly couples, one pushing the cart, the other gathering apples or onions or romaine, but there was one man who was by himself. He looked nothing like my dad but he made me think about my dad. What-ifs starting filling up my mind. What if his marriage had been happier? What if he had found fulfilling work after the steel mill closed? What if he could’ve recognized his inaction not as laziness, as my mom labeled it, but as depression? What if his dad hadn’t died when he was in high school? What if his parents’ marriage had been happier? What if his mom had loved him more? What if he’d skipped football on whatever day his skull was hit too hard, what if he’d skipped football altogether? What if he hadn’t stood in the open refrigerator, depression-eating mayonnaise out of a jar with a soup spoon bent by scooping ice cream from the container?

(I believe all of these things contributed to his early dementia.)

I looked at that old man putting a small bag of red potatoes in his cart and I wondered. What would my dad have been like as a real grandpa? What if he could’ve grown old and achey, his hair entirely white, still talking and telling stories and laughing at off-color jokes? What if he could’ve really interacted and known my children—how would he have loved them, how would their lives be changed? How would I feel, right now, nearing 50 and empty-nesthood and my own aging, if I had a dad I could turn to for help or advice or maybe just a good long phone call about a person he knows from down at the coffee shop?

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When I sat down to write this blog post, I thought it would be a list of questions I wish I could ask my dad. Did you ever wish you had a son? How did you really feel about your marriage? Why didn’t you try harder to spend time with my kids when you could? Tell me a good memory about your dad. Tell me a good memory about your mother. Why did we never visit your grandparents’ grave even though we were in the same cemetery every Memorial Day? What did you love about football? What did you love about wandering around in the desert? Were you, like mom, disappointed in how my life turned out?

Or maybe I would write about the realization I had. When I dig into my family history, I am consistently disappointed by the lack of stories about my female ancestors. Even the short life-story someone wrote about the person I was named for—titled “Amy Simmons’ Life Story”—is mostly about her husband and sons. So I have told parts of my story, and of my mom’s and my grandmas’. But I have told very few of my dad’s stories, and all of what I have written down is about me interacting with him, not him as a person independent from being my dad.

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What surprised me about writing this—knocked me on my back, so to speak, with an absolute flood of tears—is how raw it all still is. How I have put away unexamined so many ugly and painful truths about our family, simply because he died. I haven’t really processed any of it, my parents’ shaky marriage and how it impacts still, to this very moment, my own. The way I loved my dad and I know he loved me but how I also have a lot of buried anger at him, and how if I could hold it up and look at it, I think it would look a lot like the anger my own children must have for me. How I am just like him in many ways, not all of them positive.

Ten years ago, my dad died. I thought it was a life event, a thing that everyone has to face, and while it was unfair that I had to do it at 39, at least I had good memories to hold on to. Those summer weeks in Lake Powell, the look on his face when I stood on a first-place podium after a gymnastics meet (which was the same look when I stood in 9th place or in no place at all), that one time in the car driving him home from the airport with Haley in her carseat and he sang “you are my sunshine” with her and that’s the only time I ever heard him sing.

I thought: he died and I miss him and so I have to let go of all of the rest of it, the complications and the disappointments and the wounds and the struggles. But ten years later, if I let myself think about it, if I stop to be within it:

I only put the things on a shelf. They are still there, unprocessed, unspoken, still being carried around. His death didn't negate them and it didn't heal them.

I still miss him.

It still doesn’t feel any better since he started leaving by stopping speaking.

None of it is resolved, none of it is repaired, and it can’t ever be. Not really. I can work through my own issues over our history, give voice to my own angers and sorrows, write down what I loved about him and my favorite memories and the fact that I will likely never go back to Lake Powell because Lake Powell is my childhood and so it can’t exist without him.

But me processing it doesn’t help him. It doesn’t fix his wounds and his damage and his anger (which he never, ever voiced).

Me processing it doesn’t give him the chance to go to his brother’s 80th birthday party last month.

It doesn’t let him be at my kids’ graduations.

Or let him have a good, long, loving but hard conversation with my son who is his generational twin.

Or stand in the grocery store as an old man buying potatoes.

You live with it—grief, loss. Sometimes it feels less heavy, but I think that is only because life, the living of your life, lets it weigh less. And then something happens, some small thing, a stranger in a store, and you start to feel the weight of it. I don’t want to not feel it, honestly, because it is the only way I have of interacting with my dad anymore. I miss him and part of me will always be mad at God for not letting him have more joy in his life.

And I guess I just needed to put this out into the world today:

I wish my dad was still here.

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Struggling to Fit the Pieces Together

Sometimes this happens: small pieces of things over time influence me but they are random and don’t make sense, until the final piece is found and I see how they all fit together.

Over the past three or four weeks, I have been struggling. I know what depression is and how it feels, and this is partly that, but not exactly. It is more the process of seeing who I am at this time in my life and realizing I do have regrets, I do feel trapped, I do wish I had made other choices. I will turn 50 next year and this just keeps hitting me, over and over. When my dad was my age, he only had about nine good years left before his dementia started. My mom was 75 when she died.

Five sevenths. 5/7. I keep seeing it, a fraction, a narrowing pie chart, 8:35pm on the clock.

I want to give myself grace. I want to say I made the best decisions I could within the context of my life. I want to let myself think “no one life can have everything.” I run the checklist in my mind:

I have a husband who has evaded death more than once (more than thrice, truly) and at least once a week we hike together.

I had four amazing kids and I get to have Elliot in my life.

I was blessed to own a home where I raised my kids safely, cooked meals, baked cookies, grew flowers, raked leaves, shoveled snow.

I have a handful of close, true friends who I value with all my heart.

I got to travel a little bit. I’ve put my toes into the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Sea of Cortez, sobbed in art museums, walked inside European cathedrals, ate slices of pizza on New York City streets.

I have run marathons and half marathons, climbed Half Dome, hiked countless miles.

I lucked into a job that allows me to use my skills and interests in ways that sometimes feel like they are helping my community.

I know I have had many good, fantastic, amazing, and truly lucky experiences in my fifty years.

But I still find myself mourning—yes, mourning. That is the word for what I am feeling.

❦ ❦ ❦

One of those stupid “choose two” memes.
It was a list of ten compelling things you might have in your life, and you’d respond with the two you would pick. I don’t remember all of the options—I would’ve chosen wealth and a healthy body—but one I can’t forget: One million followers. I scrolled through some of the answers and was shocked at how many picked that option. My mind keeps going back there, trying to understand (not judge). Why is social media fame important to people? Am I motivated by wanting more followers? Why do I spend time on Facebook and Instagram? I will always say I don’t really care about my miniscule numbers, but if I am honest I am still bitter that I am not one of the cool girls on Insta or a successful blogger. Given the actual choice in reality, I wouldn't pick a bunch of followers over other things, but there is still some part of me that wants to be seen in that way.

Running friends are racing again.
I swear…over the past week my Insta has been filled with running friends doing amazing things. Finishing marathons, running solo virtual marathons. 50Ks and 60Ks and 50 milers. Rim to rim to rim runs. Hard things that they accomplished and I am proud of them and happy for them. But then I turn my thoughts to my “hard” things…this week I will bump up from five one-minute running intervals to seven. I am finally walking without a hitch if I concentrate, so my next goal is to walk correctly without thinking about walking correctly.

Even a 5k feels out of reach for me right now.

Do I want to run races for the likes? Not really, although I would share. I want to run races for the experience of it…for the training and for the day itself. For dirty ankles and tired calves and a runner’s suntan line on my thighs. But mostly it is for that feeling of confidence in my body. In knowing I could get myself home on my own two feet if I had to. In trusting that my legs are strong, if not fast, and take me to places you can’t get to in a car.

I miss that desperately because it was a thing that made me feel like I had succeeded in something. I mean, I will never win a race. I’m not fast. But knowing I had challenged myself and then risen to it—knowing I had accomplished something—gave me a way to feel proud of myself. I can do hard things.

No: I could do hard things. Right now I can’t.

So where do I find any positive thoughts about myself?

Reading Oona Out of Order
This is a time-travel novel, of sorts. For unknown reasons, the main character, Oona, begins “leaping.” At midnight on each New Year, she finds herself as herself, but her body and her life are in a different, random year.

Just the kind of novel I love.  (Just the kind of novel I wish I were talented enough to write.)

There is a scene where Oona’s mother is dying, and she tells her daughter some graceful and grateful things, to keep with her once she is an orphan. I sobbed as listened to this scene (I was reading it as an audio book) because I also had one last conversation with my mom as she was dying, but it was neither graceful or grateful. She was dying but she was still disappointed in me, and so I had to pause the audio, sit on the rug on my kitchen floor, and weep. Because my mom is gone, because I don’t get to go back and fix things, because I let her down so much that even in death her love for me was qualified. I wasn’t who she wanted me to be and I will know that for the rest of my life.

Maybe my people love me because I am kind to them and don’t always bash them with my opinion.
This is a memory of a conversation I had in the fall of 2020, when we were deep into the pandemic and the US election and a fractioning of my extended family. Unlike most of my family (on both sides), I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t have in-laws. And my political beliefs are different than many of theirs. But to be told so bluntly that the only way I can be loved and appreciated by others is to stay quiet, to pretend to be something I am not…it continues to eat at me. I can hear the tone of that statement still, and the words come to me at odd, random moments. What they mean is that I am unlovable the way I am, and that other people have big families they matter to because they are lovable.

That someone I love told me that makes it even worse. What do I do with this knowledge?

Two Instagram posts.
Isn’t this crazy that the two missing pieces were on social media, when it is often also social media that sends me spiraling? Nevertheless, here they are, the two pieces I needed to finish this small puzzle.

1.  A runner I follow wrote a post about the challenges she has overcome, but how she still sometimes compares herself to others. Then she realized that challenges are only about yourself. The people running 6-minute miles are strong in visible ways, but many others are strong in ways that are harder to see. But we are all still struggling with something, and what matters is pushing forward. My hard thing, small as it seems, is still something I am striving to overcome, and I still get to take a sense of pride in that, even if it’s invisible on social media.

2.  This morning, I stumbled upon the IG of an artist, Annie K. Blake, who passed away earlier this year from pancreatic cancer. I am not an artist but I am deeply drawn to art, especially that done by women. Her page touched on some of my insecurities—she belonged within the Utah artist community, she was seen and known—but as I scrolled and looked at her images and read her words, I found myself (again!) crying on the floor of my kitchen. Not because of despair, though. I mean, I didn’t even know about her work before she passed away, but I will never get to know her at all now, but it still wasn’t despair, not really. It was a click, somehow. Maybe in the fifty years of my life I haven’t accomplished anything of merit. If I died tomorrow I would leave behind no art and many of my goals unfulfilled. Maybe I only have a couple of decades left, maybe even fewer.

But I also felt a…a lightening, perhaps. A shift in my mourning. Because at least I am alive today.

❦ ❦ ❦

I don’t turn easily towards optimism. I want to be hopeful, to look on the bright side of things, but it isn’t a natural part of my personality. I have a hard time letting go of negative experiences but am highly skilled at downplaying the positives. That means that my mother finding me disappointing in the end and someone else telling me I can’t be loved unless I act like someone I am not doesn’t feel like a bruise but a tattoo.

It means that yes: I did train for and finish a marathon while recuperating from whooping cough. I did qualify for regionals by competing with a freshly-sprained ankle. I have continued to increase my uphill hiking speed even as my age increased. I've done many hard things in the past. But I still need to prove to myself that I can do hard things by continuing to try to do other hard things. I can’t rest on my past hard things.

But since I know these things about myself, I know I have to work to see experiences in other light. To seek out different pieces of knowledge that aren’t only dark. That the puzzle only comes together with both, with self-doubt and self-belief, with shadow and sparkle, with despair and hope.

I am still struggling. But this little puzzle of random things I have assembled lately helps remind me that it is just that: a process, not a destination.

Maybe there will still be good within the last 2/7ths of my life.


Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in more than a year: I met people at a restaurant. I’ve been looking forward to this for two weeks, since my friend, sister, and I planned it.

Just lunch.

Just talking with people I love.

But after so long of not seeing anyone or doing anything, it was…

well, I don’t really have a word for how it felt.

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I was seeing faces. I was hearing their voices, learning new stories. Laughing. Tearing up. All over a meal.

We admired bracelets. We brought gifts. We exchanged books. We showed each other photos.

We were together, and I was renewed. Enlivened. Happy in a specific way that involves being loved by someone who has known you for a long time, who knows the shorthand for all the stories, who you can be yourself with. Who you absolutely adore and who has saved you more times than she knows.

But after we finished, after we’d hugged and said our goodbyes, I slowly filled up with…sadness.

Not a darkness, really. Nothing sharp. Just a gentle, persistent ache. And when I got home, I curled up in bed, had a long cry, and took a nap.

❦❦❦

I am an introvert. And, throughout my adult life, I’ve had some experiences that have brought me to a choice of withdrawing. I love and value my friends, the real ones, but I have a hard time with casual friendships. In most social situations, I keep my shields up.

I’ve made this little world for myself, where I have my family and my close friends, my running and hiking, my flowers. I spend most of my time writing, crafting, quilting, or reading. Part of my shield is telling myself I don’t need people. I am happy in my own miniscule universe.

But deep down I know: I do need people. Even if I don’t need a whole squad like others have, I need my people. To see and be seen, to tell stories and to listen to them.

I think the sadness came from knowing how long I just put my head down and didn’t have any interactions like yesterday. I survived and I was fine and I could continue surviving and being fine. But I also didn’t have that specific happiness of being with people I love. So the sadness is kind of a retroactive one, I think. For the hugs we didn’t give each other, for all the days we didn’t see anyone else’s face.  For all the times we could’ve used a living, breathing person across the table from us, listening or speaking, but we couldn’t.

For the way we all carried on on our own.

❦❦❦

There will be other days. There will be more lunches. We will go shopping or hiking or to the bookstore with our friends. But the blank spaces of last year: we cannot get those experiences back. And we are changed. Some relationships won’t ever be the same. We lost many things during the pandemic in addition to the actual lives that are gone.

Those lost things require—deserve—to be acknowledged and mourned for.


My Favorite Flavor of Truffles and Other Random Bits

One of the scrapbookers who inspires me, Heba Alsabai, has a series on her Youtube channel called "Me, Myself, and I," where she makes a scrapbook that is completely about her stories, using a list of 31 prompts. I'm all in on women realizing it's important to tell our own stories. When you first start it can feel like it's conceited or weird but really, if you don't tell your stories, no one else will. There are so many things I wish I knew about my mom and my grandmothers. It is a sort of void in my psyche, honestly. And maybe there won't be a granddaughter or great granddaughter (or grandson for that matter!) who has my same need for stories about her ancestors, but if there is, I want to fill it.

In thinking about Heba's prompt list, which you can see HERE, and my own process of telling my stories, I am inspired to tell some stories I hadn't thought of. Maybe on a scrapbook layout, maybe on my blog. And since all this thinking happened around my birthday, I decided I'd do a list. Just some random bits and pieces about me right now, just for fun, like I used to do with my kids around their birthdays. Some of the prompts are from Heba’s list, some are my own ideas, but the spark came from listening to her on the Scrap Gals podcast.

Me right now, as I’m writing this post. Home from my long shift at the library. Home from getting my second Covid vaccination. I have blisters on my forearms, hamstring, and finger from spot removal at the dermatologist and another bandaid on my neck from a mole scraping. I’m wearing my newest t-shirt, which I bought from Stately Type. I couldn’t resist it because that is the old logo from Lake Powell, from the 80s, when we went to Powell every summer. It made me miss my dad.

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My favorite donut: a chocolate old-fashioned from Daylight Donuts. Almost any old-fashioned donut, really, but the Daylight ones are the. best.!

Silly things I say are my love languages: getting cards in the mail, sending cards in the mail, photographs, baking.

My actual love language: None of the five love languages in Gary Chapman's book really feel like mine. Like, I love getting gifts but I don't need them to feel loved, and none of the rest fit me either. My love language is, I think, being seen and appreciated for who I am. I don't know for sure if that is unique to me or if, when you boil it down, that's everyone's basic need. 

Something I miss: The Exponent II Facebook group. It kind of imploded over issues of intersectionality. It was the perfect place for me because it's far less intense on vitriol than other post-Mo spaces are. I don't want to be angry and hateful while I work through this process (although I understand the anger and the hatred) and I miss having a place I could engage in discussion with people who understood and didn't judge me. 

Something everyone seems to care about except me: The British royals. Just don't care about the lives, even the actual struggles, of these powerful, wealthy people. Not when the vast majority of the world is also struggling, but without the wealth and power.

Something contradictory about me: I love poetry but I cannot stand novels in verse. 

Something random that makes me happy: getting packages in the mail.

Thoughts about what I am reading right now: I'm about 75% through The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow. I LOVE the story, the characters, the setting, the time period, the main conflict. But, a story based on three sisters who don't understand each other has hit too close to home so I delve in and then I have to scurry out again...

Thoughts about the audio book I am listening to right now: Recollections of my Non-Existence be Rebecca Solnit. I LOVE AND ADORE everything Rebecca Solnit writes. A favorite quote from this book, which is a memoir about the experience of being a woman in contemporary America:

"I remember once looking at the Pacific Ocean, to which I often reverted in trouble, and thinking 'everything was my mother but my mother.' Books were my mother, coastlines, running water and landscapes, trees and the flight of birds, zazen and zendos, quiet and cellos, reading and writing, bookstores and familiar views and routines, the changing evening sky, cooking and baking, walking and discovering, rhythms and blues, friends and interior spaces and all forms of kindness, of which there has been more and more as time goes by."

However, I don't love her actual voice reading the audio, which in turn makes me not love my own opinion because I love her writing so much...

What my friendships look like right now: Lots of messaging. After getting my second COVID-19 vaccination today and so in a few more days (OK, 2 weeks) I'll feel safer about meeting up with friends. But probably will still want to be outside with them. But I can't wait to do something in person with Wendy, Julie, Chris, Becky, Cindy and many others!

A song I love: When I upgraded my phone this winter, my music app stopped playing WMA files. I have yet to figure out a different app (please note that YES I am that old-fashioned person who listens to music she actually owns, rather than via streaming service) so right now I just shuffle all the songs on my phone and it's playing music I have forgotten about. (Don't you think "shuffle" should be fairly random? And yet, it isn't. I think it circles through the same 100 songs or so, and ignores the other 357 tracks.) A few in particular: "Never Stop" by Echo and the Bunnymen, "When the Stars Go Blue" by The Corrs and Bono, "Nothing's Wrong" by Echosmith, and "I Found Out" by The Head and the Heart.

Books I currently have checked out from the library: The Once and Future Witches • We Run the Tides • The Lady in the Lake (I am actually halfway through this, but I put it down to read OAFW, but then I haven't picked it up again) • On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light: Poems • The Witch's Heart • The Charmed Wife • Kate in Waiting • The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Books on the hold shelf waiting for me to bring home and add to my pile of library books: The Nine Lives of Rose NapolitanoSharks in the Time of Saviors

Something my husband and I argue about: How many books I have checked out and scattered around the house.

What I am making right now: Four baby quilts in various stages. I can feel them tugging at me, wishing to be finished, but right now I am in the middle of moving into a different room for my crafty space so they will have to wait. One baby is five months old now...is that too old for me to give it to her? 

Something I've recently finished: This layout with some pretty bad cell phone pics from 2013:

Layout nathan at the library 4 23 2021
(clearly inspired by Shimelle!)

and this hot pad, which I made for Haley's birthday:

Succulents hotpad

(I am still fairly new at doing paper piecing. This was REALLY fun to put together but involved some seam ripping as paper piecing requires you to think backward and my brain is still learning the tricks.)

Something I need to buy: A pair of shoes with stiff soles that I can wear to work. I'm currently wearing my hiking boots to work to support my healing toes but I don't think I won't need such support for awhile.

Something I have too many of: Shoes I can no longer wear. I've actually never been a "pointy-toe high heels" kind of girl. I like thick stacked heels and open toes, but I do have a few pair of high heels I just won't put on my feet again after my surgery. 

Something I'm finding ironic: red-hued politicians who simultaneously ban books and decry the "cancellation" of Dr. Seuss.

My current favorite treat: latte truffles from Lindt

A suggestion for better writing that I clearly can’t follow: Brevity is the soul of wit.

Tell me something random about you right now!


An Emotion I Don't Know the Word For: on Time and Daughters Growing

When my kids were newborns, I cried a lot. I would look at them, their tiny toes and perfect skin, their unscarred-by-the-world innocent smiles, and cry. I loved the experience of mothering my babies, and I knew it would be fleeting, that the tininess and the gentleness would end. I wanted to hold on to them, to make them stay forever small, but at the same time I wanted to know them, to speak to them, to listen to the story of their day, to bake them their favorite cake.

1995 haley newborn with amy 4x6

I was so happy in those sweet, blissful moments, even with the diapers and the spit up and the exhaustion. The clean-baby smell, the long hours spent just rocking or holding a tiny human, singing Yaz songs to them quietly in my awful voice. I loved them so much and I wanted to protect them and I knew I couldn’t, not fully, not completely, because they were here to grow up and become a part of the world, the world that would need them but also sometimes harm them. I knew they would have their hearts broken and be betrayed, that they would have illnesses and broken bones and all sorts of struggles. I knew that life, no matter how good, also holds difficulties. We can’t be human without them and yet I wanted to keep them away from every type of pain and damage.

My mom told me it was just hormones and I would stop crying eventually.

And sort of, I did. I learned that there is joy in all of the phases of parenting. It’s never the same as that first rush of newborn love, but that is just fine. There are a million different types of love you are blessed to feel as a mom.

But even as I loved each phase, I still, in the moment of it, was deeply aware that it wouldn’t last. This joy—the magic of her reading her first words out loud, his absolute bliss the first time he ran across the beach toward the ocean, the pride infusing his whole body as he managed to ride his bike without wobbling, his concentrated admiration of an orange flower as he struggled to balance in the green grass. At each good moment I still felt the tug, that same sorrow right in the middle of happiness.

I don’t know if there is a word for this feeling: The awareness, while in the middle of happiness, that the happiness itself is ephemeral, so that part of the happiness is always a deep sadness over its ending.

I don’t know if everyone feels that, even.

But it is a feeling I have had ever since they first put my daughter Haley into my arms.

20210228_125758 haley amy porch 4x6

Yesterday was Haley’s 26th birthday. We got an email from our health insurance company letting us know that a life event had happened to change our policy: she aged out.

And I confess: It made me cry. That same kind of crying that I did when she was a newborn, barely seven pounds, and I was terrified I would do everything wrong but I knew I loved her too much to ever make any mistakes and I would do whatever it took to protect her all her life.

All her life. Pediatrician visits and immunizations. Broken bones. Eye doctor and the dentist. The dermatologist for her plantar warts. Stitches. Physical therapy for her shin splints. All the way up to adult medical needs: I’ve taken care of that, taken care of her in those ways, for every day of her life.

And now she’s on her own.

The feeling is the same, but my understanding of it is different. When they were newborns, the feeling was about them being newborns. Now they are adults, the feeling is about them being newborns and toddlers and schoolkids and teenagers and who they are right now. The feeling is about knowing the feeling will never go away and that I wouldn't want it to.

Right in the midst of birthday happiness, of taking the day to think about all of the things she has accomplished and the good things that are happening in her life, I was reminded there is no holding on to any moment. Time just keeps passing. All we have is now, and now is infinitely precious because in a second it will be replaced by another now.


Thoughts on Solitude

February 14, 2019.

My husband asked me the other day if I remembered the last time he went into the office to work, and I replied immediately: February 14, 2019.

He said “how can you remember that date for sure? It was two years ago!”

I remember because it was the last time I felt truly unrestricted and free.

This is one of my life’s main conflicts right now. After working for two decades in a job that supported our family but was frustrating and unfulfilling, my husband has a job that he loves. He gets raises and feels valued and we don’t have to live with the constant fear of him being laid off. A huge perk for him in this job is that he can work from home. (Even before the pandemic and shut downs he was working from home.) This means no commute in traffic (he hates traffic) and when he has a break in calls he can do stuff around the house.

He is much happier in this job than he was in his old one.

While I am…I can’t push it all the way to “miserable,” but I am less happy.

My whole life I have thrived when I had solitude. Even as a teenager with a large friend group, my happiest times were when I was alone in my bedroom. As a mom, I structured my days around solitude. Maybe it sounds selfish, but I wasn’t the mom who scurried to clean the house only when the baby was napping. I needed their nap times, then their preschool afternoons, to recharge myself. To be alone and to do something I love in solitude. (Reading, scrapbooking, quilting. Oddly enough, I don’t need solitude or quiet for writing.)

This is something I love: no one at home but me, the house already clean, maybe a load of laundry running. Time alone in my house, making something.

Oh, that solitude.

It is like the feeling that comes when you’ve hiked for a long time on a hot day, and you get to a stream of ice-cold, snow-fed water. You take your shoes off and plunge your feet into the water, and you almost want to weep as the coldness travels through your body. It is a quiet, rejuvenating pause.

Being around other people all the time makes my brain feel hot and overworked. It makes me wilt.

Solitude revives me.

It’s not really that Kendell is doing anything annoying while he works. He rarely says “maybe you should clean the kitchen” or anything like that. (To be fair, this is because I have carefully, and sometimes angrily, taught him that he is not my boss.) It’s just that he’s here, in the same space as me.

It’s a tug. A constant awareness of someone else here.

It makes me feel an almost physical response. It’s a sort of low-grade anger that’s always there. It would calm down if I could just be alone but since I’m not it never gets a chance to sizzle out. It is also based on guilt, and my flawed sense of self-worth, and the indoctrination of how women are “supposed” to be. It doesn’t help much that Kendell is not an introvert. He doesn’t need a lot of people around, but having people around doesn’t tug at his energy sources. He doesn’t understand my need at all.

Then the pandemic started. Jake worked from home, Kaleb did school at home. Not only was I never alone, there were two more people here all the time. The tugging was never-ending.

(At this point I feel I should clarify: I love my people. I love spending time with them. I love taking care of them. I also just need time to myself.)

So what do I do with this situation? When Kendell didn’t work at home, he was unhappy. Now he’s happier, but I am less happy. How do we find equilibrium?

Some of it has come by me learning to adjust. Part of it has been Kendell learning not to take it personally. Most of it still weighs on me.

For more than a year, I haven’t really had a choice. This is just how it is, people working at home and there is always someone here.

But dare I confess that I hope it will change in the future? Maybe when the offices open back up. Maybe when we move.

Today, Kendell, Jake, and Nathan are hiking. I would’ve gone if my foot allowed it, but it doesn’t. So I’m happy to stay home. Kaleb is here, but he’s sleeping. And for a minute, even for a couple of hours, I will have solitude. My feet are tingling with the chill and it’s starting to work its way up to my overheated heart, to my scorching brain. My lungs are filling up with air and I can breath for real again.


on Writing: Tearing Down the Dam

Writing on laptop 4 14 2021

I read two different pieces of writing yesterday that have been working in me. Here’s the first one:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

This comes from a conversation between Agnes de Mille (a dancer who choreographed the dances in Oklahoma! and many other Broadway plays and who changed the way dance was used in drama) and Martha Graham (a dancer who revolutionized modern dance and all-around brilliant, creative soul). A writer I admire, Katherine Arden, shared it on her Instagram and I read it about twelve times yesterday morning, almost making myself late for my PT appointment. It ends with the declaration that no artist is ever, in the end, fully satisfied with her work. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”

The second one comes from an essay I read last night at work, when I had roughly 27 minutes left before I could go home. In theory we’re not supposed to read at the desk, but sometimes you just need to. I was feeling worn out all day from my PT appointment (he worked my foot in hard but lovely ways that made me feel that it won’t always be a stiff club at the end of my ankle), but at that point I was just out, so I read for a few minutes:

She made weather, like all single peaks. She put on hats of cloud, and took them off again, and tried a different shape, and sent them all skimming off across the sky. She wore veils: around the neck, across the breast: white, silver, silver-gray, gray-blue. Her taste was impeccable. She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.

This is from an essay called “A Very Warm Mountain,” which Usula K. Le Guin wrote in 1980 about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The essay itself is a masterclass about how a piece of writing is “about” one thing but then that thing is about everything, and if I could I would read it out loud with you and then discuss it. But what really, really hit me in the gut, what mixed with the Martha Graham words, was this small paragraph. It made me think Ursula would so understand my relationship with my mountain. She writes that of course St. Helens is a woman, but not in the way men believe, and that she is a sister, not a mother.

I have loved my mountain—Timpanogos—since before I even knew her name. And ever since I first hiked to the summit with my sister in 2006, I have carried an essay in my mind. If I had written it in 2006, when I had only hiked it once, it would’ve been much thinner than what I would write now, having summited it many times and grown intimate with its foothills and crags, its secret meadows and exposed ridges, its temperament from different directions and altitudes. Her temperament. But the basic construct would be the same, the way the local story explaining why she looks like the profile of a reclining figure, created by a white man and then labeled as Native American myth, is wrong. Of course Timp is a woman. But not only a virginal maiden pining for her lost love.

because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique

And yet, there in that essay is one of my favorite writers, exploring the same idea. Mountains as women, and how men don’t get the metaphor correct at all. And that sentence: “She knew the weathers that became her, and how to wear snow.” It is one of those sentences that fill you with both the joyous spark of something perfectly constructed and the despair that you, yourself, will never be the one to construct it. Someone else already did.

❦❦❦

I took a little break from my April social media goals, after last week when I posted every day on Instagram (for a photo-prompt challenge) and blogged almost every day.

I started this blogging challenge because I wanted to reestablish my writing habit. A writing practice of showing up, every day. I imagined that it would help me tap in to the old feeling I used to have, when I was brimming with ideas and potential pieces. I wanted to reconnect to my writerly self, who I have carried with me every day of my adult life. Every day, in fact, since that time in April during my junior year of high school, when I tried to show up at school again, and in English class another student read a poem she’d written to the class and I realized that writing wasn’t just the thing I did in my notebooks, it was a thing that actual people did and shared with the world.

I have always, for maybe even longer than I have loved Timp, processed my world with writing. “Writer” has always been my highest aspiration. Words have always been my structure.

But here I am, almost fifty. I could tell you: I raised four children. I could say: I married a person who is wonderful but who does not understand this aspiration in any way, and that makes me feel ashamed and blanketed. I could make a story about how the words of a professor two decades ago still linger in my psyche, reminding me the odds are not in my favor.

I could explain all the many reasons I have doubts and hesitations and how they have stopped me from pursuing what I always wanted to do.

But deep down I know: they aren’t reasons. They are excuses.

The truth is, fear has stopped me. I have let fear stop me. Out of fear I built a dam and closed the channel.

I never stopped writing, not really. Even when blogs fell out of fashion I kept blogging. If you follow me on Instagram you know that my photos are mediocre but I spend a lot of time writing my caption. Before social media I wrote letters and kept a detailed journal.

I have always written.

But after I got married and started having kids, I stopped chasing my “be a writer” dream.

There was school and then there were kids and then there was unemployment and then there was teaching. There was the long decade of Kendell’s medical issues. There was my dad’s dementia and my floundering relationship with my mom. There was this messy, freeing, painful, redemptive process I am still inside of, the rebirth that is midlife. Through all of it I had the same sparks, different colors: I could write about this, I could write about this, this is how I would write about this experience…

I have sometimes written those ideas. Fewer times, I have polished and rubbed until the edges were smooth enough and I have submitted. Even fewer times have I received the “accepted” response and seen my words in print. I have written, yes, but not done what writers do, which is the work of having your work be seen by the world.

I wanted to find those sparks again. I still want to, but they are slow in returning. The dam is sturdy.

But I am finding something is different in me. I am having dreams and falling in love with images. I am putting my pen onto paper and writing, trying not to censor myself, trying to just follow where the ideas lead. I haven’t, perhaps, found my “blogging mojo” again. Maybe I won’t. But there is something moving. And o how I want to not let fear hold it still. How I want to not be constrained by the fear of how good or valuable it might be, by my feeling that my small life can’t be important enough to connect to the larger world.

I want to be like Le Guin and like all the other writers whose work has brought me joy. To leave something of myself behind that perhaps someone exhausted late at night might find, and read, and be, during the reading, lifted instead of tired.


Eau de Good Mormon

[This post is long and touches on religion. In fact, it sparked me making a new category, because it is a topic I would like to explore more even as I know it's not a topic that most people care about reading. I wanted to put a name to where I am at with my religion right now, and I ended up with "Mormon Fringe." As in...that is where I am. Still thinking about Mormonism but not really IN the church.]

As we reemerge from our shutdowns and quarantines, blinking again in the light of interacting with people in the same space, I am remembering that there is something I still have to process. I put it aside during the pandemic because I could, because my world was comfortably small: home with my family, and a few stints at work, passing people during a hike but not really engaging with them. Now I am out in the world a little bit more, I am rediscovering this. It didn’t ever get better, I just put it away because I wasn’t forced to pick it up, examine it, figure out what to do with it.

The thing is this: I don’t really fit here anymore.

(It’s also that I never really fit, but I didn’t clearly see it. Now I do.)

The reason I don’t fit in here (and by “here” I mean: deep in the heart of Utah County, where some ridiculously high percentage of people is staunchly LDS and so the majority is safe to assume that everyone is staunchly LDS) is mostly because I no longer go to church. There are many stories I could tell to explain why. Many experiences and realizations, so many months of grieving and aching and crying and then finally coming to a sort of peace and a sort of acceptance. Some things I have shared on my blog, but most of them I haven’t. Not because I am ashamed or don’t want to talk about it, but because most of the people in my life don’t want to listen to it.

One of the last public things I did in 2020 was a sewing class. I got a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2019 and it came with a free class, so I spent a Saturday at the Bernina shop, learning about my machine. I arrived with my machine and my hydroflask and my always-present hope…maybe I’ll find a new friend here? But, nope. I learned a ton that day about my machine, but I also learned something about myself. I had already not been going to church for a year, so honestly it had been awhile since I’d hung out with people from the UC at all. So as I watched and listened to the other people talking, laughing, and connecting it felt like anthropology. Like observing a society from the outside. That was my realization. I really don’t fit here, there is something different about me.

It was like…there is something they can read about each other’s body language that is an invitation. They just immediately find their connections: a son and a cousin who actually were mission companions in Guatemala, they are both primary presidents,  they each bought their machines because they wanted to learn how to sew ruffles to skirts to make them modest enough. My personal favorite were two women realizing they live only three blocks away from each other, in one of the fancy neighborhoods in Orem, on the east side of course. “Oh, don’t you just love living in there? The views are so amazing and the air is so clear and everyone’s landscaping is gorgeous!”

(And meanwhile I’m like…well, thank God they won’t even ask me where I live because I’m just down here on the flat part of Orem with the dirty air and the views of everyone’s trash landscaping and if I admitted that to them then they would know I am NOT seriously so blessed like they are.)

(I’m not bitter.)

Here in the Provo/Orem area, what it means to be LDS is to be a person who is ALWAYS and WITHOUT A DOUBT LDS. They prove it with their big east-side houses, with their top-of-the-line Suburbans (to carry their seven children of course), with the mission references and the temple-wedding references and the this-is-my-calling references. With their blonde hair and their modest clothes and the occasional flash of garment just so everyone knows they follow The Rules. They talk about it. (It seems it is all they talk about.) They assume everyone knows the cultural language they speak. They never have a thought enter their heads that someone else might be different than they are. And if you do happen to be different, it’s like they can smell it. They know there won’t be any connections to be made with you, so there is no reason to be friendly.

Even when I was trying my hardest to fulfill that appearance of “perfect Mormon person” I still didn’t really fit. They could still smell my wrongness. I was accepted on the surface, but actual, real relationships with my Mormon neighbors were few. And then as life progressed and I didn’t “earn” all the righteous blessings they did—I mean, it’s OK to start on the west side, it’s never being blessed enough to move up that proves your worth, and then none of my kids went on missions and actually none of them are even interested in the church and my husband was never a bishop and I was never a Relief Society president—my lack of those “blessings” proved I had earned the way I smelled. I didn’t do it well, I wasn’t righteous enough, I didn’t get the blessings I wanted because deep down I wasn’t good enough. If I were I would’ve earned those “good things” and would be happy.

Finally accepting that in part they were right—deep down, I am different—was one of the most freeing, if painful, processes of my life.

After that sewing class, I confess: I went home and cried. Honestly, every time I sit down at my machine I feel a little bit of a scrap of that feeling, that realization: I never fit because I don’t fit. I tried to fit for two decades, but just broke and tore and cut and scarred. It was a turn in my path, a realization and acceptance: stop trying to be someone you are not.

Of course, church members would say “no, there’s a place for you here, too. And maybe if you come and work harder, if you pray more and do more and believe more, if you stop being a lazy learner and just have a little faith, your children will turn around and everything will be OK, you just have to not give up.”

But here’s the thing.

I don’t want to sit in church and continue to feel bad that my kids didn’t turn out like everyone else’s did. I don’t want to be in a supposedly-holy place that demands I feel that way about my own children. I don’t want to pray that they will want to “go back” to church. I want to pray that they have happy lives. That they find relationships that fulfill them, careers that give them confidence and purpose. I want them to have meaningful experiences, to help others, to be healthy and safe. If they choose to get married or have families, I want them to do that because it will be a part of them being happy, not because it’s what a religious institution told them is the path to happiness.

All told, what I want for them, what I pray for and hope for, is that they don’t have to live their lives this way. Feeling like they are odd, like they don’t fit. Like they smell wrong.

❦❦❦

So, here we are, more than a year after the start of the pandemic. I’m starting, just a little bit, to go out into the world again. Last week, I reluctantly started going to PT again. Reluctantly because while I trust the PT I’ve been going to now for seven or eight years, I don’t love going there. My not-a-good-Mormon smell is especially potent there.

I knew to expect it so I was pre-hardened.

But this morning I struggled. Everyone talked about their weekends. “My nephew was ordained.” “I got to go to in-person church for the first time!” “I went to my cousin’s baby blessing.” One woman and her tech discovered they both went to the same mission in Switzerland, twenty-odd years apart, and then she glistened and glowed about her husband, a BYU professor who served in Belgium and also speaks French and so they decided to move to Provo instead of Orem so they could put their kids in a school that does French immersion and “of course it didn’t hurt that we’re only a few blocks away from the temple” (ie, east side on the hill) and now they only speak French in their home. (“Home” is spoken with a special reverence in LDS parlance, an extra-rounded O and a drawn-out M. It is never a house.)

I listened to them, patients and techs and therapists, speak their Mormon language, smell each other’s correct and pleasing smell. I started wishing again—wishing I could speak it, too. Wishing I had the right smell. Wishing I could laugh and start conversations easily and just…be involved, wherever I go.

And then I wondered: what do people outside the Book of Mormon belt talk about?

I don’t even know.

(Like, literally. I don’t know.)

I looked at Mrs. We-Only-Speak-French and young I-Know-Everything-About-BYU-Sports dude and the lady talking about how sweet it was to go back to church and hear signing again and the tech expounding on the church’s policy with polygamous families and how gracious it is. The guy getting his knee massaged with 4 inches of garments hanging out from his shorts and the older woman working on her shoulders, her g top exposed with each weight lifting.

I thought you are all insane. They don’t know what to talk about or how to be outside of their religion, and even more disturbing is they don’t know how strange that is. They fit because they fit here, so nothing hurts because why would it? Round pegs, round holes.

And I stopped with the wishing. I can wish this thing away all I want, but it isn’t going anywhere: I don’t fit here. My shape is spiral and convoluted and angles, and that is who I am.

And maybe if I were at another physical therapist’s office in, say, Seattle or Helena or Orlando or Detroit, I still would listen to the easy conversations around me and not know how to be a part of them. Maybe there is no place my shape fits.

(Actually, strike that “maybe.” More than likely.)

But I want to write this thought anyway, this thought that I had as I came home, again in tears, to write this post. The thought I had after putting into words this thought: I hope my kids don’t have to live this way.

Do I have to?

Is there somewhere I could fit, some place where I am the missing piece?

I’m not sure. But I am sure I don’t fit here. I could ignore that during the pandemic, but I don’t think I will be able to for much longer.


Science People Doing Word Things and Other Surgery Microstories (Surgery Story Part 2)

I am feeling many Feels today, and this is not what I want to write. What I want to write is about “lazy learners” and faith transitions and the dissent of zealots, but I am not quite ready. So today, just continuing yesterday’s story. Sort of. Not even really a story, but a list of microstories, little things I want to remember about the day of my surgery:

  • The day before my surgery the surgical center called to confirm what time I should come in. She told me and I thought “I should write that down” but then I didn’t because I also thought “that’s not any earlier than getting up for a race, so no big deal.” BUT THEN. Then I woke up at about 2:37 in the morning in a panic. Did they tell me to come at 6:00, so I should get up at 5:15? Or to come at 5:00 so I should get up at 4:15? (Both are times I’ve gotten out of bed to run a race.) So then I fretted in bed for awhile and castigated myself for not listening to that “write it down” wise voice and I imagined all sorts of scenarios of what would happen if I got the time wrong. I even got out of bed, found the number of the surgery center, and called them. (It’s a same-day surgery center. No one answered at 3 in the morning.) Finally I actually woke up Kendell and said “what time did I tell you I needed to be there?” and he said “six, stop worrying, get some sleep” and you know? I’m STILL not sure what time I was actually supposed to be there, but if it was 5, no one said anything about me being 45 minutes late. (But then they also didn’t say anything about me being 15 minutes early, so…)
  • Just this moment: walking from the car into the building. It was still midnight-dark at 5:45 in the January morning, and so cold, but the stars looked so bright. They calmed my nerves and made me feel like it would be OK.
  • I intended on painting my toenails. I did not paint my toenails. I went into foot surgery with naked toenails, which is kind of obscene...
  • When I was changing out of my clothes (I wore flannel pjs because that seemed like the easiest thing to put on after the surgery) into the surgery gown, there were nurses standing outside the changing room. One of them said “today is a cool date, January 12, 2021. 1/12/21” and another one said “it’s like…ummmm, there’s a word for it? Like mom or wow?” and they couldn’t get there so after thinking ahhh, cute, science people trying to do word things!” I said “it’s like a palindrome” through the changing-room curtain. (It is almost a palindrome, but not really, but that’s OK because at least I had the word they were searching for, if using incorrectly.)
  • I had to pee in a cup so they could do a pregnancy test before my surgery. I had a four-minute panic thinking what if it’s positive? I mean…I love babies and I love my kids but I’m almost 49 years old. It’s someone else’s turn to test positive. (I was not pregnant.)
  • The usual compliments about my gorgeous veins when my IV was inserted.
  • The doctor had me write “yes” on the foot he was supposed to operate on, just to be sure. I found this to be oddly positive so I added an exclamation point. I wish I would’ve also drawn a smiley face.
  • It was so strange to be the patient instead of being the patient's spouse. SO WEIRD.
  • The anesthesiologist came into the pre-op room to talk to me. He was awesome. He told me about every step of the process and what I could expect. He told me that he and my surgeon had discussed my case the night before, and decided they wanted to ask me if they could do a nerve block on my leg. Apparently this is a new thing they do, both the anesthesia and the block so that there’s no pain for 18-24 hours after the surgery. I told them that was great, but what really struck me about this was imagining them talking on the phone the night before about me. It made me feel like they both really wanted to make sure they surgery went well, like I was a person who mattered instead of just a patient.
  • There were a bunch of people in the room before they wheeled me out and down the hall to the surgery room, so Kendell stepped out to make room. Which means I didn’t see him or tell him goodbye or hear him tell me good luck and I was just high enough on whatever they put in the IV to calm you down that I thought about turning around and shouting “where the hell are you, Kendell!!?!?” but not so high as to actually do it.
  • I did not believe I would actually go under with the anesthesia. But my last memory is of them telling me to scoot onto the table and I said “aren’t you going to 1-2-3 lift me?” If they actually had me count down from 10 like you see on TV, I forgot!
  • My first thought when I woke up: I HAVE TO PEE. RIGHT NOW. Those were also my first understandable words. Luckily the nurse believed me and got me there in time. I’m totally OK with being the nerdy patient who knows stuff about words. I am NOT ok with being the patient who pees the bed!

(You can read Part 1, where I explain how I got to the point of needing surgery, HERE.)