Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lessons I've Learned So Far (26 to be exact)

Last year for the April A to Z Blogging Challenge I wrote about my favorite songs, ones that have been significant in my life. I spent six months working on those posts and was proud of what I produced. I received positive feedback from friends and readers who related to my feelings about music, and that was my goal!

Life distracted me from thinking much about this year's challenge until recently. I wanted to do a theme again  because I enjoyed writing last year's posts so much and a theme helps me come up with topic ideas. I wanted to do something along the lines of writing about my favorite things, or what brings me joy but I basically did that the first time I did this challenge, in 2013 (books, candy, Dave Matthews Band, elephants - yep, that pretty much covers it!) I have a friend who also does this challenge each year and she is going with the theme of her favorite things so check out her blog if you get time!

 I brainstormed on variations on that theme and finally stumbled upon the idea I'm going with this year. The past few months of my life have been a whirlwind of change and emotions. Through it all, I learned A LOT about myself and the people closest to me, and about my life in general. I traveled to places I'd never been and had a lot of fun new experiences but also a lot of heartache. I did some serious soul searching and returned home a changed woman, with a sense of clarity about my life that I couldn't have achieved any other way.

I know my recent adventures will eventually give way to a series of colorful, witty essays but now is not the time for that.

As I've reflected on my recent experiences, and my life in general,  I've decided to share what I believe are the most valuable lessons I've learned so far in my journey. Each lesson has it's own story (or stories) and while they may not all apply to everyone, I believe they are worth sharing and worth reading! So please stay tuned for the month of April, as I share what I've learned!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Life Is Like...Nothing Else


I like roller coasters. It's an interesting fact about me because I don't really like heights and I hate to fly. When I ride a roller coaster, I'm almost always in fear for my life and I have huge issues with fearing death. But I ride roller coasters anyway. It's probably one of the most thrilling, dangerous things I do by choice (except driving a car, of course!) I like the anticipation and the stomach dropping feeling. I'm usually terrified for the majority of the ride, thinking WHY DID I DO THIS?! but once it's over I'm like Oh that wasn't so bad, I'm excited yet relieved and generally glad I did it.

Lately I've found myself likening my life to a roller coaster ride. There have certainly been a lots of ups and downs, but I've started to give that more serious thought. There is much choice involved in a roller coaster ride. You get on and stay on, follow the track, then get off at the end. Most roller coasters don't have many blissful parts. During the calmer parts I'm thinking Oh shit, what's going to happen next? and while the uphill part is exciting, typically my body has been slammed back against my seat and I'm gritting my teeth.

Maybe that is like life?

During a recent chat with a close friend, I stumbled upon a solution to some of the anxieties I've been feeling in regard to all the change I've experienced. I said something along the lines of "I need to sit down into my choice and go with it, enjoy it." Now, that is like a roller coaster, isn't it?

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Forrest Gump "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." Being a candy connoisseur, I can appreciate that on many levels. There are few things worse than biting into a delicious looking piece of chocolate, expecting sweet gooey caramel, only to get a burst of  something gross like liquid hazelnut (or your own version of that! Many people don't like the fruit/jelly filled ones but those are my favorites!)

You can compare life to many different things, but the truth is all of those things are a part of life. There are ups and downs, there is joy, sadness, peaceful moments and terrifying ones. Sometimes you take a bite of something and it's delicious, but sometimes it's bitter or what you eat makes you puke! It all happens. It's all part of this glorious thing called being human.

To say my life has been full of change recently is the understatement of the year. Some of it has been brutally painful and some of it has been blissful. But it's all been the consequences of choices I made. Were those the "right" choices? I think so. I've been continuously motivated by following my heart and doing what was best for me at each moment.

It's funny how much that can change, isn't it? For me, what was best in January was a complete turnaround from what I needed two months later. But I never would have known that if I hadn't leapt, if I hadn't made some bold, scary choices and tried some new things. I could have sat around thinking I wonder what would have happened if I'd gone on that adventure? but now I know. I went, I did a lot of cool stuff and learned a ton about myself. You can't fake that or bring it about through any other circumstance than when it's actually happening.

Life is life. We only get one so we should give it all we've got. I know that's cliche but it's truth! So whatever it is you're going to do with yours, do it with gusto! Strap yourself into that roller coaster or reach blindly for a piece of chocolate. Don't second guess yourself and don't apologize for your choices!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Stranger In A Strange Town

Me in the bank vault at a Starbucks!

As I've traveled from town to town in the U.S. during the past several weeks, I've noticed a few things. While every community is a little different, they're all pretty much the same. There's an Applebee's, a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot. One morning I walked my dog outside my hotel, staring out at the vast Sam's Club parking lot and beyond to a strip mall behind a busy intersection, groggy before I had any coffee, and I actually forgot where I was for a moment! There were no distinguishing characteristics to remind me what city I was in. 

I'm sure people who live in these places would disagree with me. I know each town has its own history and appealing qualities. I found one Ohio suburb particularly charming after noticing an abundance of repurposed buildings. I browsed in a book store that used to be a church and visited two Starbucks that used to be banks, one of which still features a vault! I saw a liquor store that used to be a church and a Christian academy topped with a giant lighthouse, which I'm guessing was previously something sea food related! 

In each chain restaurant sits a familiar cast of characters, the hung over college kids having breakfast at IHOP, the elderly couple having a 4pm dinner at Bob Evans, blue collar men in grease stained Carharts having beers at the restaurant bar. People complain about the weather or politics, they cheer the local sports team playing on the flat screen TVs. 

For the most part people are friendly, if maybe a bit cautious. A waitress who asked to see my ID wanted to know what brought me from Montana to an O'Charley's in Ohio on a Tuesday night at 10pm in the snow. 

A couple weeks ago I went to a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game, to root for the away team which is "my team", the Philadelphia Flyers. I felt a little guilty, wearing my bright orange and cheering against the home team but since I grew up outside of Philadelphia, I couldn't help it! When a group of Philly fans started a chant of "Let's go Flyers!" the twenty something guy seated in front of me (who gave me a nice view of his hairy butt crack each time he stood, despite the fact that he was wearing a belt) returned the cheer in the same tune with "You live in Ohio!" It struck me as interesting that he assumed all of the several thousand sports fans in the arena live nearby. I don't live in Ohio and I was there. I think it's interesting to see how some people aren't able to see much past their own personal bubble.

As I've aged, I've noticed that people's opinions are based on their own life experience. And if they don't have much of that, they tend to go with what they've seen or been told while growing up. That young guy at the hockey game probably couldn't yet imagine a life where he traveled to a different city to see his favorite team play. Just like the people who didn't support me going on this adventure probably haven't ever had the opportunity or desire to take bold action, to demand change in life, to shake things up. 

There are things I miss about home: my purple comforter, my sweet little Boston Terrier, home made food, having a daily routine. And there are things I certainly don't miss: house work, obligatory dinner parties, shoveling snow. It's nice to go to the hotel desk when I need more toilet paper, trash bags and even coffee. There's a part of me that could maintain this lifestyle indefinitely and another part that's just really tired. Not having a place to settle is fun and appealing. It's not as scary as I thought it might be. One of the most frustrating parts has simply been figuring out how to operate a new shower/faucet every few days! But I'm also constantly reminded that I don't have a home base right now which can sometimes leave a gal feeling a bit disconnected.

I've learned some incredible things about myself in the weeks since I left Montana, and about the people I love. I've learned who my real friends are and what parts of the country I'll choose to bypass in the future! I've realized how important adventure is to me, experiencing new places and things. I've seen my toughness and my weak spots. And although I already knew it, I've realized how important and amazing my dog, Charlie, is. He's made more friends on this adventure than I have! 

I know I still have a lot to learn about myself and about life. In the near future, I will face a lot more unknowns. They're intimidating. I don't know exactly where I'm going next. That's exhilarating and terrifying both at the same time, which is the evidence I need to know I need to push ahead. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Blog Posts

Me at The Bean in Millennium Park in Chicago last week

One of the most frustrating, yet most beautiful things about being human is that the Earth keeps spinning when we're faced with a crisis and it feels like everything has screeched to a halt. Even if it's not a catastrophe, life altering change can make me want to hang a sign on my front door that says "This household is dealing with some serious shit, please come back another time" and hide under my bed until I've recovered. But life doesn't work that way. No matter what I'm dealing with, the world continues to move along; my work place is still busy, my mother still calls (and calls and calls), UPS still knocks to deliver a package. Summer before last, shortly after my dog died, the home owners association sent a letter stating people were complaining about the unsightliness of our lawn and I thought How in the hell can anyone care about the lawn at a time like this? But they did care, because everyone else's life went along as usual.

Fortunately, I have not been dealing with a catastrophic loss such as that recently, but life as I know it has changed and that's always scary, even when it's exciting. Over the past few years, The Universe has nudged me a couple times. It gave me opportunities for change and I turned it down, both times, instead choosing the safe, comfortable route. And so The Universe has brought a battering ram this time and it is speaking to me loud and clear.

I've been absent from the blogosphere for a while. I apologize. I know it makes some of my friends nervous. This tends to happen to me when I have a lot going on in my personal life. If I'm dealing with a situation I can't publicly write about, I have a hard time "ignoring" it and writing about other stuff. I still write a ton, but I can't bring myself to post. Such is the life of a non-fiction writer, I suppose...

Details will be emerging shortly, I promise. I'm on an adventure and I'm documenting it every step of the way, and I'll share it when the time is right! In the mean time, know that I'm safe and writing A LOT, and prepare for lots of pictures of my dog, Charlie, as he accompanies me on my journey!

Me & Charlie, nap time at the hotel

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Notes On A Concert

Note: This was taken before the concert started

I went to see Phillip Phillip in concert last night and I learned a few things:

1. Apparently I have a thing for white guys with acoustic guitars (but I think I already knew that)

2. My post concussion brain does not like strobe lights

3. Technology is a double edged sword.

Without reality TV and "vote via text message", I wouldn't know who Phillip Phillips is, but the level to which people are distracted by technology in their daily lives is disconcerting. The crowd was full of lit phone screens. The concert was going full blast and all around me, people were taking selfies, recording videos and even Facebooking! When the woman seated behind me wanted me to sit down because she was recording the song I was dancing to, I considered screaming into her lens "BE HERE NOW!" How dare she interrupt my joyful experience? I took one giant step to the right and kept dancing. I thought How can all these people be here in this amazing moment and be focused elsewhere? and then I realized that I was focusing elsewhere by thinking about all these other people! It sure is distracting, all the camera flashes and glowing screens. While I was dancing, singing and clapping, there were four people standing in front of me, holding their phones perfectly still with both hands, not making a sound. What I want to know is when in the world are they ever going to watch that video? Oh well, when they do, they'll hear my loud, out of pitch voice singing along to every song!

4. Those of us who go to a concert because we are familiar with the artist and truly appreciate his music  are few and far between.

There was a white haired grandma type lady behind me as we exited the arena. She was complaining because she only knew two of the songs Phillip played and "he just had to wait til the very end" to play his most popular song, Home. I should have responded to her: Well, that's what an encore is. Also, you know why I  knew every song? Because I bought his albums and I listen to them regularly because I genuinely enjoy his music! What a concept! I wonder why that woman was there? Maybe as a gift to a granddaughter she loves?

I've certainly been to concerts where I didn't know any of the artist's original songs but I've never complained about it. That's part of loving music and that's some of the point of an opening act, to expose you to music you've never heard before. I've discovered a lot of great artists that way.

5. I do not belong seated in the stands. I belong in that crazy, screaming, pulsing mass of humanity in front of the stage.

When I bought my ticket to this concert, months ago,  I was still suffering from some significant concussion symptoms. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to go and I figured if I did, I probably shouldn't be close to the speakers and would need to be able to sit down, so I bought seat tickets instead of general admission. I only stood up to dance for four songs, which practically broke my concert loving heart!

Music is one of the things I'm most passionate about, and going to see live music is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I've never made a list (although now I'm going to!) but I'm sure that I've easily been to over 100 concerts in my life. It's food for my soul. A Dave Matthews Band concert is my personal equivalent of going to church. I understand that's not common and I certainly don't expect all the other concert attendees to have the same enthusiasm for the experience that I do. I guess I just don't understand the concept of spending so much money on a concert ticket if you aren't fully committed to the experience. The same goes for people who get so drunk or high that they have no idea what song is playing. I've never understood that either.

I don't want to impose on anyone else's experience with my singing and dancing but I think I have a right to be doing it. I've paid good money for my own little space in that venue and I should be able to use it to enjoy the music however I see fit, as long as I'm not hurting anyone else. If I annoy you, well... I'm sorry but I'm not really sorry.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rolling Forward

This weekend marked three months since my concussion.

According to the neuro rehab specialist I've been seeing, I've officially crept into the unfortunate 15% of people for whom Post Concussion Syndrome doesn't resolve within 90 days. I'd like to say I'm almost normal but really, what is normal?

My life is very different than it was three months ago. Instead of skating 6 hours or more per week, I'm thrilled to now be able to use my elliptical machine for 30-40 minutes at a time. I've even advanced to the point where I can handle listening to music with my ear bud. Hurray for progress!

In the months since my injury, I've suffered not only the concussion but a heat stroke, food poisoning, three full blown migraines (when I typically have 1-2 per year) and a serious cold that knocked me down for almost two weeks. Also, one of my cats died and I had a birthday. Life continues to happen regardless of the fact that I feel unequipped to handle it.

But I do handle it. I don't have any other choice. And then I think Woah, look at me. I handled that shit like a boss.

Since it's only been within the last three weeks or so that I've started to feel like my old self again, it's only now starting to set in for me that I won't be returning to roller derby. Obviously I've known that all along but I don't think my brain had the capacity to process the information and allow me to truly feel it until now.

There are some things about derby that I miss terribly. I miss my friends, my teammates that supported me through my roller coaster of a derby career. I miss using my body to it's fullest abilities, feeling strong and tired and sore after bout. And there are things I don't miss at all, like practicing til 10 o'clock at night and off skates obligations. Like anything else, derby has pros and cons. It just so happens that the biggest con happens to be damaging my brain!

My eight year old niece has been asking me to teach her to roller skate since she moved to town in August. I am honored that she asked and the thought of teaching her something new makes me heart happy. But I was fairly nervous about getting back into my skates. I knew there'd be some emotional work as well as physical and I didn't want that to happen with her around.

I tied on my roller skates this morning for the first time since my ill fated last game. The urge to do so had grown so strong over the past few days that I couldn't resist it any longer. Since learning to skate was pretty difficult for me, I thought three months away from them would have set me back quite a bit. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt rolling around my street (wearing a helmet of course!)

Me in my skates this morning

I bought brand new ice skates this summer for $10 at a yard sale. I'd been looking forward to using them until my injury and then I'd been picturing myself slamming my skull into the ice. But now I'm thinking of finding my niece a pair of ice skates as well and using this as an opportunity to spend time with her and move myself forward while still using my skills and getting a work out.

I'll probably still miss roller derby for a while yet. I'm planning to go next month to watch my first bout since my retirement. I'm curious to see how that makes me feel and I'm super excited to cheer on my friends who still play.

The Universe has a plan and a sense of humor. I'm learning to stop worrying so much about what might happen in the future because really, I don't have any control over that what so ever.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Digging Up Dirt

As of today, I'm half way through an eight week memoir writing class that I'm taking at a local writer's collective. I've wanted to take a class from Molly for the past three years but it each time she announced  her upcoming courses, something would come up to prevent me from enrolling; work, finances, life, you know how it is...

I got the email announcing this fall's courses within days of getting my concussion. At that point I was still struggling to sit up without feeling like I was going to puke and I was panicking at the thought of life without roller derby, without that social circle. The timing of this email was perfect in that it reminded me that there was so much I loved to do besides derby, things that I needed my brain to be functioning for!

So I signed up and crossed my fingers that by the time the class started in late September, my brain would be recovered enough that I could participate without feeling like a zombie!

During the very first session, I felt like my sternum had cracked open and my heart was pouring out (in a good way!) Finally, a place where I belong, where my desire to tell my stories is appreciated. Each week, I sit at the long unfinished wood table with five other writers as we complete free writing exercises and share what we come up with. It's incredible how much I can produce in six short minutes, given a prompt such as "Write about something you wanted but didn't get." Our pens scritch and scratch on our notebooks as we frantically try to get out all the thoughts that come flooding in the gate that the prompt has opened.

The exercises we do in class have tapped into experiences I've had that I'd forgotten about and memories I've tucked away in places I haven't wanted to go to again. There are some things I've always wanted to write about but have been afraid to: worried about what people will think of me, worried about the people who play roles in my stories-what if so and so finds out? But I've come to realize that what my hero David Sedaris so eloquently told me this summer is true, "Ramona, you're over thinking it."

So I've gone there. I've started digging in the dirt. I'm working on a piece about experiences from my childhood. Many of you who know me well may have never even heard these stories. I don't talk about my experiences much but I've come to realize they're a huge part of who I am. The reasons I don't want kids, why I'm afraid of getting re-married, why I have very little faith in our legal system. All of these things have do with my baggage, my junk that I carry around. By writing down my stories and sharing them with others, I'm unloading a little bit of my junk and making room for more!

It's amazing to me what it feels like to revisit some of these old places inside myself. Yesterday I was writing about the death of my childhood dog and I started to cry! Sometimes I have to get up from my desk because the air around it becomes heavy and clouded with memories.

I've been told that depression comes from living in the past, while anxiety comes from living in the future. I've spent the majority of my life bouncing back and forth between the two, missing the here and now. This is something I work on with my life coach and by having a gratitude practice.

So why then do I want to go back to the past with my writing? I've been asking myself that question a lot since this class has started. I've learned that we all ask ourselves these questions as writers: Why am I telling this story? What's the point of this? Who is going to want to read this? I certainly don't know the answers. What I do know is that I feel compelled to tell my stories. If one solitary person reads a story and relates to it or laughs at it, then I've made a change in the world and I'm happy with that.

I might never be a famous writer or blogger (or I might!) but I know that by just following through and doing what I feel so inspired to do, I'm setting an example for others. If I can do it, you can do it! No matter what that "it"is!