Monday, August 24, 2015

Life After Derby

A pin given to me in a birthday card last year.

This month marks one year since I retired from roller derby after suffering a head injury during a game. At this time last summer, I was still in the early stage of my recovery, wondering if I'd ever feel like myself again.

The answer to that question still isn't clear. Are any of us ever really "the same" after anything as we were before?

At my birthday party last August, I couldn't drink more than one beer and was devastated to discover I had to turn off the background music because all the sounds hurt my head too much.

As I prepare to celebrate my next birthday this week, I've been doing a bit of reflecting on my 36th year. (I'm a pretty reflective gal, if you haven't figured that out yet!)

I've realized that the past year has been about recovery and discovery for me. Recovering from my injury and all that entailed, physically as well as emotionally. And discovering who I am and what I want and need in life. I've tried a lot of new things and learned more about myself in the past few months than I ever imagined possible.

It's been a year since I played derby and I still miss it a great deal. When I got injured, I wondered who I'd be once I wasn't a "derby girl" any more. I've realized that a part of me will always be one. Even though I don't play anymore, I know that I'm capable of it and that's a powerful feeling.

Roller derby eliminated the shell I wore that separated the real me from the me I showed to the world. When you get knocked on your ass in front of a thousand people while wearing hot pants and fishnets, it's kinda hard to hide anything!

Roller derby allowed me to embrace who I am and who I strive to be. I formed strong bonds with like minded women (and a few men) who didn't judge me by my tattoos or the fact that I'm childless, and who helped me form a bad ass persona for myself based on the fact that I love candy.

Derby filled a void in me that I didn't even know I had. I had never played a team sport before. I miss the bond that I formed with my teammates. Now as I live a life without it, I wonder what will be next for me and where I might find that camaraderie. It's exciting to think there's something waiting for me that I haven't discovered yet.

If I had to sum up what I learned from roller derby in one phrase, it would be this: I can literally do anything I want to. I joined the team at age 33 and had never roller skated in my life.  Last weekend, I ran a relay race in the Grand Teton Mountains. It was tough. I sweat, I struggled, I cried. I turned into a monster from not getting sleep. But as I was pushing myself through seven miles with a 1,100 foot elevation gain, when I started to struggle I reminded myself  Hey, at least no one is chasing me or trying to hit me or stop me!

I've continued to support my derby team by going to bouts and fundraisers. My personal experience has allowed me to play a unique role for two of my former teammates who have retired in the past few months.

As I recovered from my head injury, I began to focus my energy on running, reading and writing. I've done some traveling and have tried my hand at floral design for the past few months.I am more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been before. I have the confidence to wear whatever I want and braid my own pigtails!

Sure I'm a different person than I was before my head injury but I'm also a different person than the one who signed up for that 180 mile relay race!

It's fun to look back every so often and see the changes in myself. I've had experiences this year that I never would have anticipated at this point last summer. That's the beauty of change.

Teaching my niece to roller skate this summer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Really Don't Know What Time It Is

Two years ago, I stopped wearing a watch and replaced it with a bracelet that reads "Be Here Now.”

One of my personal resolutions over the past couple of years has been to work on being present and aware in my daily life. Far too often I found myself in the middle of a task I wasn't focused on, instead my mind was running through a ticker tape of all the stuff I need to do next. I realized I was missing out on the joy in experiences because I simply couldn't sit still and enjoy them.

On a recent evening, as my other half was considering some pre-dinner preparations, he asked me "Do we have time for this? About an hour and a half?" I looked up from what I was reading to reply "Sure. We've got all the time in the world. We're not on a schedule." With one eyebrow raised, he asked "Who is this new Ramona?"

He's justified in being surprised at my laxidazical attitude toward time. A year or two ago, I would have been stressed about the fact that it was "dinner time." For the majority of my life, I've clung to beliefs that certain things need to be done at certain times. That's how I was raised. Thanks to having a mom who always had me arrive an embarrassing thirty minutes early for any school or social function, I'd come to believe that promptness was a life or death issue. If you're going to be late, you might as well not show up at all.

As I grew up, I saw that not everyone held that belief as firmly as my mother and I did. Sure, it's understood that one should try to be on time for a commitment but that's generally about as far as it goes. I had professors who were always late, then worked for bosses who couldn’t show up on time. There was a time when I thought less of those people; You expect me to be on time but you can't be? I begrudgingly thought to myself. I started to realize that actually no, those people didn't put any expectations on me, I was putting them on myself. Sure, you can't be chronically late to work or there are consequences (usually) but occasionally, it happens. The alarm doesn't go off (or-gasp-you fall asleep without setting it), you get stuck in traffic or the roads are icy or any number of  hinderances that lurk between Point A and Point B. Still, I held tightly to my belief that had to be on time and if the people around me cared about me and my selves, they would be on time too.

Then I moved to Montana.

On multiple occasions, I've gotten behind a car with a bumper sticker that asks "Did you move here to be in a hurry?" Well...I guess the answer is no...

Montana slowed me down. A lot. Maybe it's the open space and the long distances between towns. Maybe it's the mountains, the fresh air, and/or the outdoorsy lifestyles but people who live in Montana have a different energy than people in the rest of the country. 

I moved to Bozeman eight years ago, after living in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina for close to a decade. I liked it there but headed West after my divroce, in search of a fresh start closer to my personal support system. After only a couple of weeks in my new home, it occurred to me just now welcome my lifestyle change was; No more daily commutes on the belt line in rush hour traffic, no hour long waits at the grocery store check out, and I felt safe walking my dog alone in the evenings.

My “Be Here Now” bracelet was custom made for me by a roller derby teammate who is a metal smith. The one I wear now is actually the second version because I wore the first one so much that it broke in half! My sweet friend made my second bracelet out of a stronger metal after taking measurements and other efforts to make sure this one would last me a long time. 

I glance at my bracelet when I need reassurance. When I’m feeling anxious, or rushed or uncomfortable, I look at the blocky letters to remind me to take a deep breath (I’m considering getting a second bracelet that reads “Just Breathe”) and stay with whatever situation and emotion I’m facing. 

Even after two years, I still occasionally look at my wrist when I want to know what time it is. It’s still a reflex after decades of wearing a watch, I suppose. And while there are certainly times when I genuinely do need to know what time it is, I’ve realized most of the time it doesn’t actually matter. And when it does matter, like for work, there's a clock I can look at, or I can always check my phone.

The result of my lacking a time piece constantly attached to my body is that I now “run behind” more than I ever have in my life. *GASP* And I’m still alive, still cruising along just fine. 

Sure, it’s stressful to me at times. I still believe that being on time proves your dedication to the task at hand and I don’t want to be late. But sometimes it happens. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean I’m giving the finger to the person I’m supposed to meet. Sometimes I just don’t get there exactly when I said I would. 

I’ve come to realize I was a slave to time for the majority of my life. Now, I’m likely to text a friend to say I’m running behind or ask to push dinner back by 30 minutes so I’m not rushing around like a maniac. 

I’ve learned that my time is valuable and precious. I’ve only got so much of it each day. I want to enjoy what I’m doing when I’m doing it and spend less time in the future or the past. 

How do you feel about time? Do you wear a watch? If so why or why not. I’d love to know!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Be Normal

I've decided that I would like to eliminate the word normal from my vocabulary.

According to Roget's Thesaurus, "Normal implies conformity with the established norm or standard for its kind." Synonyms listed include ordinary, usual, regular, typical, natural, average, common, run of the mill.

So if you don't conform to the establish norm, you're not normal? Who established that norm and did they ever tell us what it is?

I don't think normal has any synonyms that carry the same weight as it does. Common and average, I like to use. Those are tangible concepts, you can measure them. But what's normal? One can ask "What's the average age for a woman to get married?" then do research and come up with a number. When you ask "What's the normal age for a woman to get married?" that puts a different spin on things.

Part of my motivation to discard the word normal has come from my work in the flower shop. Each week we receive shipments of fresh cut flowers. I can have a bucket of 36 red roses and while they all look the same at first glance, each one is a tiny bit different. Instead of holding up a flower with misshapen petals and asking "Is this normal?" I've learned to ask "Is this one okay to use?"  because there is a wide range of traits that are considered acceptable. This should apply to all living things!

On the 4th, my Boston Terrier sat on my lap in our front yard while our family lit off fireworks in the driveway. His head would follow each hiss and woosh from the ground to the sky and he never flinched at the boom. My other dog laid at my feet as relaxed as if we were inside watching a movie. Someone said "Those dogs are not normal!" and I will agree this is certainly not the common reaction most dogs have to fireworks, but it's certainly preferable to them being frightened or needing to be sedated.

My thesaurus states that abnormal means strange, irregular, unnatural, unusual. Every time we say "That's not normal," what we're actually saying is "That's strange and unnatural," but I don't think that's what we usually mean.

As a writer, my thesaurus is my favorite tool and helps me hone my craft. When I write a first draft, I write by hand, putting down everything that comes to me. I type it, print it, read it through once, then start editing. One of the first things I do is circle words that need to be removed or replaced, such as very or huge or happy.  I want to use as few words as possible to say what I mean and I have an entire shelf of reference books to help me with that.

One thing I've learned from those books, besides an abundance of synonyms, is that sometimes we use words when we don't know exactly what they mean. I once wrote an entire essay about a trifecta and when I was done thought I better look that up to make sure I'm using it right, and it turns out I wasn't! I used it anyway and included a preface to explain why but the point is, I could have looked quite foolish if I'd not caught that. It's like how not all the examples Alanis uses in Ironic are actually irony. It's still a catchy song but I can't take it seriously.

Perhaps it's because I'm a writer and have a strong appreciation for words, but I believe we should be careful with the words we use. Technology has made it so that our lives are crammed full with people's opinions, with their words. Getting the opportunity to have someone listen to what you're saying is a gift that shouldn't be squandered. When someone chooses to read my blog or magazine article, I'm flattered because there is an endless list of other things for them to read and they chose my words. If someone uses their precious time to read my writing, I want it to be worth their while. I want to make them laugh or smile or give my piece thoughtful consideration.

Likewise, when I speak to someone I want to add to their day. We all have people in our lives with whom conversation is difficult or draining. It's not necessarily their fault. I think they simply haven't become aware of the power their words hold.

I'd like to challenge you. Over the next couple of days, keep your ears open for the word normal. And pay attention to the words you use often or that others use with you. I'd love to know what you hear and think about it!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Remember One Thing

Monday afternoon, I was manning the flower shop by myself when I received a phone call that was a wrong number. This isn't unusual, as our shop seems to have a phone number close to that of some sort of licensing office. The man on the other end of the line ignored my initial greeting and went directly into a rant about what happened the last time he attempted to call this office. In my usual kind tone, I explained "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number, this is a flower shop," while snipping the thorns from some roses. Instead of apologizing, as most folks do when they realize they've misdialed, this particular caller responded with an angry exclamation that included The N Word, then immediately hung up on me.

I'm a fan of expletives in general. There's an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants where he and Patrick find cuss words written on a dumpster and begin using them, calling them "sentence enhancers," and I love that description. I'm a writer, I love words and language and I don't think there should be "bad" words. There's a time and place for everything, even The F Word. However, I also believe words can be misused and that hate speech is a serious issue that exists in our society.

I'm not easily offended, and I believe everyone has a right to their opinion. It takes a lot to shock me but with all that being said, this man shocked me. I mean, mouth hanging open, dumb founded, flabbergasted. I stood there holding the phone listening to the dial tone in absolute awe. I could not believe what I'd just heard.

After I hung up the phone and regained my composure, I considered using Caller ID to call the man back. If it had been my personal phone and not my work place, I probably would have. (Although the next day my boss said "You can call him back right now if you want to, I don't care. That's not acceptable.") I didn't want to scold the man or insult him, I simply wanted to ask Why? Or more accurately, I wanted to say "Seriously? Five days after the Charleston shooting, and during an especially racially charged climate in our country, you want to use that word with a stranger? What exactly do you think you're contributing to society by talking this way?"

I've been thinking about that man all week, my faith in humanity a bit bruised. With all the horrific devastation in the news lately, I like to think that people are carrying on their day to day lives taking particular care to practice kindness and gratitude. I know I sure am. But I bet that guy hasn't thought about me for one second. He was just pissed that he was told to press 7 and when he did, he got disconnected.

This morning when I heard the news that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, I turned to my husband and said "Well, I'm glad to see that this can happen in our country, even if people are still using The N Word, " and we both laughed because really, you have to.

I still can't believe that in the year 2015, in The United States of America, anyone has to fight to be considered equal. We are all the same. I don't care what color your skin is or who you like to have sex with. I simply cannot understand why anyone who wants to get married should be denied that. I don't want to go into a political rant here, that's not my style. In fact,  I'm not a political person at all. I'm not a religious person at all. I'm a person who believes in fairness and love. It doesn't seem complicated.

Over the years, a few people in my life have tried to encourage me to change my blog title. More than a few people in my life are not exactly fans of following the rules. "Break some rules," they plead. And yes, I suppose we all do it from time to time. But I won't change the title of my blog because those are two huge fundamental parts of who I am.

Dave Matthews Band has an album called "Remember Two Things," and while I don't know what exactly that title refers to, I like to think it is along the same lines as what I find important in life. I guess it actually can be boiled down to one thing, which is simply: Be Kind. If you do that and you follow the general guidelines of being a considerate human being (even if you occasionally break a rule,) you should be okay.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Thoughts On Tragedy

I sat up with a gasp a 2 o'clock this morning, in the middle of a dream about a high school classmate of mine who was in a horrific car accident earlier this week and is still hospitalized with severe injuries.

I woke from that dream sweaty, with a racing heart. I turned on my bedside lamp and leaned back against my pillows, attempting to get my bearings. I looked around my dim bedroom, at my dogs sprawled out around my feet, my husband curled up beside me sound asleep, and I thought How lucky am I?

I know that sounds cliche but there's a reason cliches exist, because they're relatable and generally true.

On one hand, I think How can I go about my day laughing and working when such suffering is happening to people I know? and then I think How can I not? That's my duty right now. There's nothing else I can do. I think of them and send positive vibes their way and then I go on living. I am overflowing with empathy and gratitude today.

One of the most beautiful yet frustrating things about being human is that the world doesn't stop turning when crisis befalls us. I have gone through experiences (grief, illness, divorce) where I've  wondered how in the hell everyone else was acting so normal. As I get older, I realize that they had to, just as I have to now. That doesn't mean I'm not acknowledging others' tragedies and creating space for them.

Hug your loved ones today, hug your dogs, hug yourself. Wave to the other drivers on the road and send them thanks for paying attention and not causing an accident. Do those things every day.

So often we travel around through our days without realizing how connected we all are, how much our lives are in the hands of the strangers around us. Saturday afternoon I was in Wal-Mart (I know, what was I thinking?!) when there was a sudden sharp BANG. I grabbed my husband's arm and hid my face in his chest. I thought it was most certainly a gunshot. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for another bang or a scream. It turns out that a child had popped one of those large bright rubber balls and everyone was okay. But look at how everyone in that store could have had their life change in less than a second. Those things happen.

I wasn't able to get much sleep after my 2am wake up. I tried to distract myself with a book but I'm currently reading a sci-fi novel about a man who died and unbeknownst to his wife, had arranged to have his head cryogenically frozen so he can live forever in the future. The poor widow is fighting to get back her husband's head. Needless to say, that didn't take my mind off the tragic thoughts it was holding onto! It's a good book though!

As I made my To Do List this morning and drank my spinach smoothie, the thoughts that made up this post came to me. I felt compelled to write them down before they slipped away, and share them with the world. Why? Because I can. I have this day and I don't want to waste it. See? A cliche again, but so true.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Power of a Good Book (and Google)

So far this year I've read 30 books. This may seem like a lot, but in the good natured competition I have going with my husband and my dear friend Lea, I'm in last place.

I've always adored books. As a child, before I was literate, I would carry my books around "reading" out loud to myself, making up stories to go with the illustrations.

For a couple of my elementary school years, we lived in an old apartment building next to a massive stone library in Phoenixville, PA. This is where my passion for books was truly nurtured. On hot sticky days of summer vacation, I would escape to the library's children's section which took up the entirety of its cool, damp basement. Some days I would check out the maximum, which was ten books, take them home and start reading immediately. I'd return them all the next day in exchange for a new stack.

I rarely ventured into the upstairs of the library, the boring adult part. It smelled different up there, dry and musty, and the aged wooden floor boards creaked, no matter how hard you tried to be quiet. When I did accompany my mom (who also loves to read and has always encouraged my passion for books, ) I would stare up in awe at the incredibly tall shelves. There were so many books in there. And someday, I would be a grown up and I could read all of them! I'll never accomplish that, but I'd think that young me would at least be proud of the effort I've put forth!

One of my many cluttered bookshelves
So obviously I read a lot of books. I usually have two or three going at a time, typically a fiction, a non-fiction and an audio book. I like to read from all genres and subjects.

Some books affect me more than others. What I treasure most is a novel whose story and characters pull me in so that I hate to put the book down and am still thinking and feeling about it days or weeks after finishing it. A few books that have done this for me: The Lovely Bones, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

If a book doesn't keep my interest, if it puts me to sleep or I just plain struggle with it, I quit. This is a new habit for me in the past few years. I used to push myself to finish any book I started, but I've realized that my time is too valuable to waste on any task I don't enjoy. Plus, there are countless amazing books out there waiting to be read! Not every book is for every person. Sometimes, the phase of life I'm in has an effect on how I interpret what I read.

Recently I've experienced something in my reading life that I hadn't noticed before. I've read a couple of novels that have made me feel just plain yucky. The one I'm reading right now is doing exactly that. Every time I pick it up, I shudder because I dread the detailed horribleness that awaits me. While reading in bed the other night, I turned to my husband and announced firmly "I do not like this book," and proceeded to explain why. He replied "Actually, it sounds like that's a very well written book," and I've realized he's right. The subject matter is dark, the story is sad and depressing, I find the narrator pathetic and unlikable. The fact that the author can invoke all of these emotions in me is impressive! ( I'm intentionally not naming the book or author here because I don't want to give you any pre-conceived opinions about it in the event that you stumble across it!)

I have a friend who is a writer, her first memoir was published a couple years ago. She's told me about reading her Amazon reviews early on and one particular woman who hated the book so much that she wrote a long scathing review about how terrible it was. My friend said at first it pissed her off but then she realized she would rather have someone have such a visceral reaction to her book than to just read it and say "Meh." My friend is right. Often as a writer, I've been afraid that what I'm writing might offend someone. Sometimes before I publish a blog post I torture myself with "What ifs." I've realized that if the words I write trigger any emotion in a reader, that's a good thing.

Earlier this month I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Her books always make me feel uncomfortable. The stories are super compelling but contain terrifying subjects. I always feel torn between wanting to stop reading yet needing to know what happens next! After I posted my review of that books on GoodReads, a couple of my friends commented they feel the same way about her writing. It's such an interesting concept to me, that here we are reading these books that disturb us yet we can't resist! That's such great writing!

I don't think I'll spoil anything here when I tell you that the story line in Sharp Objects is about some young girls who go missing from their neighborhood. ( I won't give you any more details!) While I was reading this book, following the stories of these fictional girls, I was transported back to the summer of 1998. I was living in the small town where I'd graduated high school and was on break from the community college I attended there. Suddenly one day, the town was covered with flyers for a missing 8 year old girl who had disappeared one evening.

All I had to do was Google the town name + the year + "missing girl" and there in front of me was her smiling red headed self from the missing posters. That image has been burnt into my brain for years, even though I couldn't remember her name. Good samaritans volunteered to help the police and search and rescue, combing the land for signs of her. It was all anyone talked about. Surely she would turn up somewhere, we all repeated, hoping that saying it enough would make it true. Two weeks later, the girl's body was found in the local landfill and the entire town grieved. I'll just say she had been killed by a neighbor and leave it at that. But we all knew the gory details that were in the town's weekly newspaper.

I was nineteen at the time and I had not witnessed anything such as this before. I attended the funeral, even though I never knew the little girl or her family. I felt compelled to be there, as did most of the town it seemed. It was the first of many instances in which I become fixated on stories of crisis, especially if it hits close to home. This is the reason I've stopped watching television news. I empathize so much with families affected by crisis that it drains me and I have a hard time focusing on anything else. The Newton shootings, the recent riots in Baltimore, these events get my attention and I have to shut it out. Otherwise I grieve for the victims and all the families involved. I grieve for how after each tragedy our world will never be the same as it was before.

And so while I was reading Sharp Objects, the summer of 1998 came flooding back to me, even though I hadn't thought of it in years. And then I felt guilty that I hadn't thought of that poor girl for so long. I'm sure her family thinks of her every day. And even though I knew the girls in the book were fictional, they felt so real to me. When I finished the book, I closed the cover, set it on my desk and then went to the bathroom because I thought I might throw up.


That's a good book, isn't it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

So What Have We Learned? A to Z Reflections

My reflection in The Bean in Chicago Jan. 2015

This is the third year I've participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge and my easiest to complete by far. The challenge came at a good time for me this year. I think I'm in a groove with my writing that I haven't quite found before. I like doing this challenge because it shows me that I can write every day. Like most writers I know, I struggle to carve out time in my daily life for writing. Posting daily, and seeing the list of thousands of other participants who are doing it as well, inspires me and motivates me to write more. I think a daily post is not something I could maintain long term but I still write every day and hope to post at least twice a week.

I spent the month of April blogging about what I believe to be the most valuable lessons I've learned in my life so far. Let's take a look at the full list:

Anything can happen.
Breakfast is important.
Crisis is sometimes needed to facilitate change.
I need to have dogs in my life.
Expectations are bullshit.
I wouldn't be who I am without my friends.
Practicing gratitude improves quality of life
Finding humor in difficult situations makes them bearable.
Ice cream makes everything better.
One woman's junk is another's treasure.
Kindness is a cycle, dole it out and you will receive it.
Things always look better in the light of day.
Marriage is different for everyone.
It's okay to say no.
Sometimes, I just need to go outside.
It's important to re-evaluate your priorities from time to time.
If you hate your job, you should quit it.
Returning is not the same as never having left.
It's totally okay to be a woman who likes sex.
Try new things.
Trust The Universe.
Eat vegetables.
Write things down.
Find your own xanadu.
Don't yell at people.
Have a zest for life.

Looking at that list makes me proud of myself! Not only did I write every day but I was able to look at some of the most crucial events of my life, find meaning in them and put it into words to share with others. That's pretty impressive, if I do say so myself!

One of the things I love most about doing this challenge is that it connects me with likeminded folks who connect with my posts and respond to me. This month I've gotten blog comments, personal emails, and text messages from people who relate to my experiences and enjoy my writing. That fills my heart with joy because after all, this is why I write. I'd like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who read my posts in April. Your support and feedback makes me a better writer and human being.