Monday, June 10, 2019

Angel Kisses and Overwhelming Gratitude

What I usually tell people about Carol Staubach is that she failed statistics in college and she was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. When she retired, Carol was in the topmost ranks of the CIA. She was clever, decisive, and ambitious. So, if she failed statistics, it is perfectly okay that I did, too. She was my best friend Jessica’s mom and at her celebration of life event this weekend it was clear that the people who knew her will miss her now that she’s gone. 

My favorite pic of JoJo and me. We were 15. 
Listening to them talk, I felt surges of gratitude. First, to be able to be there. Then to be part, even peripherally, of a love so fierce and sure. Then to witness the gratitude each of them had for knowing her. And to witness the way they’re loving each other through the loss of someone so precious.

Last fall we buried both my Uncle Howard and my Papa. I remember at the time feeling the devotion and respect we all had for them. It was our blessing to have known them that held us upright through the services and the grief.

And it’s still coming. The grief, that is. Being in a funeral home triggers it. Certain music, certain phrases, and I’m remembering the cadence of Papa saying the blessing and Uncle Howard’s throaty laugh. This fall when we go back to Clemson for football, I’m sure it’ll be there, too.

Jessica called those moments of remembrance angel kisses. Small reminders that the person you’ve lost is with you. A song they loved coming on the radio just as you’re thinking of them, a story about them coming to mind because of a seemingly-random coincidence. 

My 2nd favorite pic of JoJo and me. We were 20.
There have been quite a few deaths in our Life on Clemson Road over the last two years. Many were peripheral to Charlie and Hollie and myself (like this one and this one), but some were rather near like Aunt Carolyn, Uncle Howard, and Papa. 

I’m at that age now where those whom we are meant to outlive will begin leaving us. Each time we gather to pay our respects, I feel such gratitude for having known the people we mourn. Always the love of their families blossoms around me. The softness and warmth of care and devotion blankets us. The strength and passion of perseverance and dedication holds us up even as we crumble into hugs and tears. 

Carol’s granddaughter Aubrey has a bracelet with charms from each of the cities they visited together. It’s a heavy silver chain that jingles and catches the glint of Arizona sunlight when she extends her arm to show it. Those moments, I told her, that time together, you’ll never regret it. I never have

It was with devotion and love I crossed the country to be with Jessica while she zombied through the second-hardest day of her life. But with gratitude and peace that I journeyed home, knowing she, too, is loved. 

I know for certain the angel kisses will keep coming. They’ll catch us off guard and remind us how very lucky we are to have forged those bonds. 

I’m so sorry, JoJo, for your loss. My heart breaks for you. And when you need me, know I’m here and can be there after a *short* overlay in the worst town to stain a map. ::wink::

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019 Has GOT to be Better

I’m an optimist. As such, I expect each year to be better than the last. Lately, though, time and life have been finding new and creative ways to kick me in the teeth.

It started in 2016 when the election friction tore a rift in our nation and in my family. People I considered to be logical, intelligent people became FOX News zombies spewing vitriol. So I began 2017 by attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I carried a sign that said, “Because Love” and stood in solidarity with others who confessed the dark mood of the nation was what brought them out.

That Spring I turned 40. I didn’t think there was much to it but as my friend Heather said, “40 is a motherfucker.”

All the things I thought I was building began crumbling around me. The business lost its biggest clients. My income went to zero. Despite applying for a thousand jobs, no one would hire me. Multiple professional setbacks including an interview for a job I just knew was mine only to see they reposted the position.

Not that they found a better candidate. They’d rather not hire anyone at all than hire me.

Ouch.

At New Year’s I declared that 2017 could just fuck right off. Then the Tigers lost in the playoffs and I felt like everyone I knew felt the same way as me.

2018 had to be better.

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com
This past year I worked harder than I ever have. Some 60- and 70-hour weeks. The results were incredible. Not everything I hoped and wished for, that would be too much to ask, but some real traction in a lot of areas.

We opened the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina complete with $100k from Google and a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting. I secured an adjunct faculty contract at the Darla Moore School and we finally had minimum viable income in the household. I was invited to speak at the Pat Conroy Literary Center and asked to serve on the board of directors for the South Carolina Writers Association. I led workshops and panels and networking events and launched two radio shows on the local talk radio station.

Then, on the biggest day of the WBC of SC’s early life, I sat in a church pew some 90 miles from the Women’s Business Summit. All the work and focus and energy put into that 1-day event and I wasn’t there to see any of it.

I had to make a choice about the kind of person I want to be.

The Monday before the event, my Uncle Howard succumbed to an infection he contracted after surgery and died. He left behind two children, three grandchildren, the love of his life to whom he’d been married for 40 years, and my mom, his twin sister.

During the service, the minister of the church he’d attended faithfully for decades called him a blessed man. Humble and kind, caring and compassionate, willing to give of himself to any who were in need. He was not a famous man, he never held public office or published works of literature. He quietly served on small committees, organizing events and raising money for good causes.

What I had done in 2018 was put myself in service. By doing so, by helping others succeed, by building solutions to fill gaps, I thought to elevate my own position. Service was a marketing plan.

But on November 16th, when we buried my Uncle Howard with his Clemson Tigers ball cap, surrounded by two hundred people who loved and admired him, I realized his service was more gratifying than mine. He’d served because he was called to do so.

As we all are.

He’d said, “Yes, God,” when asked to give of himself in love and compassion, in kindness and trust. He’d said, “Yes.”

I’ve been saying, “Yes, and” as I added my own part to the story being written. I’ve been following Amy Pohler and Tina Fey’s advice for improv comedy: accept the circumstances you’re given (“yes”) and make them better (“and”). Only the “and” I’d pursued had been me asking. It was more like, “Yes, and?”

I was where I was meant to be on November 16th, a fact that was made even more clear to me on December 28thwhen we sat in similar circumstances for my Papa. The same minister said of him that he’d been a man who lived the way Jesus wanted us to: humble and kind, in service to those around him.

In service.

As 2018 ends with the double-upper-cut of Uncle Howard’s death and Papa’s, I feel another declaration oncoming: “2018 can fuck all the way off.”

My friends, for whom this year has also been a trial with loss and uncertainty and hysterics and defeats, echo the sentiment to a one.

And yet, I am not embittered by the circumstances of the year. I’m filled instead with a profound gratitude for these two men and what they taught me. I’m encouraged to go forward into 2019 and continue to serve others in whatever capacity I am able. To meet obligations with enthusiasm and optimism. To help, promote, encourage, and sponsor as I am able the people around me who are poised to achieve.

In doing so, I will not necessarily amplify my own talents, but instead be putting them to their intended use.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Suffering, but not Struggling

I went to bed last night thinking, “Everyone in my life is struggling right now.”

Marriage issues, career setbacks, rapid and disorienting change, natural disasters and natural transitions. They’re struggling. But are they suffering?

This week I met a woman who told me, “How can you expect to achieve your wildest dreams if you aren’t willing to suffer for them?”

She said, when you eat a good meal or drink a fine wine or see a great show, you pay for it. Ticket costs, right? Entry fees. Tabs and bills and checks and cash.

Why would achievement be any different?
Photo by KW 2008

I have always been an achiever. I am willing to be first and willing to work hard. I’m willing to get up early and stay up late. The norm for the last ten weeks has been 18-hour days. My latest complaint is scheduling down to the minute, even scheduling family time and trashy romance reading time.

It’s football season, so it hasn’t been all work and no play. There’s just more work to make room for the play hours that football and family time claim.

I’m doing some things I love: meeting new people, building new programs, testing new ideas, transferring knowledge, and making connections. I truly feel like I’m IN the game. 

I’m doing some things I hate: sticking to a schedule, administrative attention to detail, skipping fitness, cutting back on wine, focusing on the and theninstead of the what if?

And while I’m suffering, I don’t feel defeated.

I woke up at 3:30 this morning thinking, 1) it’s too early to get up and start working, and 2) that’s too bad.

Yes, I’m busy. Yes, I’m running on little-to-no-sleep. Yes, I’m straining some of my most valuable relationships – I’m aware, friends, I promise!

But I’m THRIVING.

When I thought last night of how everyone around me is struggling, I realized I’m not.

Suffering and struggling are not the same thing.

By suffering I mean I’m having to make hard choices, prioritize some things over others, let some things I loved go, disappoint some people while forging new relationships with others. Change is hard. New ventures are hard. Disappointment and failure and overcoming resistance are hard. That’s what I mean by suffering. It means what I’m doing is hard.

But I’m not struggling. Struggling is being indecisive, feeling alone, feeling disoriented or without purpose or direction. Struggling is questioning motivations of others and myself. Struggling is losing trust and losing faith.

I have faith.

The things that need to happen will happen. The places I need to be, I’ll get there. The influential persons and events that will shape my life are part of my life because I invited them in. I threw open the doors. I expected their participation.

I was willing to be changed.

This morning I am invigorated. I cannot wait to suffer for my achievements. I can see the horizon and it is a glorious place of fulfillment and peace. And this place I’m in now, it’s the bedrock of that one. It’s the journey. The path. The program. The system. The story I’ll tell.

And I love being in it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

You Are What You Wear

I paired the butterfly skirt with a t-shirt that reads “Take what you need and burn the rest.” In all the years I’ve owned that butterfly skirt, I’ve never had a perfectly-matching top for it. The material is flowy and satiny with a slender lining underneath. It’s a “work skirt” I’ve had since we lived up in the Upstate and it’s hung, unworn, for years.

This summer my style became work skirts and t-shirts. I wore the Miyagi-Do Karate t-shirt with a dark blue miniskirt. The Save Ferris t-shirt with a black skirt that has grey flowers on it. My Maine t-shirt with the green Tommy Hilfiger skirt. My First Amendment shirt with the white Tommy skirt.

I wrap both wrists in bracelets. I wear earrings in all five holes. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t. I let the Jeep dry my hair and push styling paste through it whenever I arrive where I’m meant to be.

I’m 41 years old and my style has emerged as authentic, a little eccentric, and vintage.

I’ve been telling Hollie for years that if what she chooses to wear is weather appropriate and makes her feel confident, then it’s fine. She pairs red shirts with pink skirts and blue socks with purple leggings. She works in color families, more than in matching sets. Once, when she was wearing all read (shirt, skirt, pants, socks), my friend Jodie said she hadn’t realized Hollie was monochromatic. She’s always had a color palette style, things that don’t clash really, they just aren’t a perfect match. It’s that slightly off-match that defines her style.

Yesterday I wore my Goonies t-shirt with suit pants. It was the first time I had the guts to do it, but I thought it looked really cool. Celebrities do it. Why not me?

In Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr.’s character pairs a kitten t-shirt with a blazer. It’s an eccentric millionaire look. The kind of My Give a Damn’s Broken look that exudes confidence. I just had to own it.

After about an hour, I’d forgotten I was wearing it and just owned it. The t-shirt with trousers look may take a little longer to gain confidence, but I’m going to work on it because it’s unique. Weather appropriate and makes me feel confident, that’s what matters.

In many circumstances, I’m expected to don the business woman uniform: trousers and a blouse. When I worked 8-to-5 for a big company, I wore skirts every day. High heeled shoes and Kay Jewelers jewelry. While my make-up has always been sparse, I worked my hair between coloring appointments. Painstakingly blow-drying every strand.

Maybe I’m just older. Maybe society has changed. Maybe being a mom had made me less patient with things like hair dryers and jewelry clasps.

Or maybe I’ve always been a skater. 

Thrasher Magazine pictures used to paper my walls, my favorite t-shirt was a ripped G&S black and white oversized. At Clemson, I wore a black body suit with a pair of my friend Josh’s jeans and an unbuttoned flannel shirt. I’ve always had a little rebel style, I just suppressed it.

And this summer, I finally unleashed it. It’s not like having a hysterectomy or selling the house, there’s nothing permanent about a wardrobe. But it still feels like a milestone. Like I’ve emerged from the cocoon and started to flap my wings.

And they’re gold and gossamer and pair nicely with a slim pencil skirt.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Put Another One in the Books

We’ve been married 17 years.

I wish I had a memory to share for each year but they all kind of blur into this long reality that is: I’ve been with Charlie longer than I’ve been without him.

We met when I was 19. So now, at 41, I’ve been with him longer than I was ever without him. The majority of my social circle doesn’t know me before Charlie and those who do barely remember me when he wasn’t reflecting me.

He’s like a mirror. He shows me the very best of myself and, when necessary, the rough edges and dirty parts, too. He expects more of me and because he does, I expect more of myself.

Those are some sweet $200 sunglasses, folks.
When I describe him to people who don’t know him, I say he’s the coolest guy I know. I say whenever I’m doing anything I wish he was there participating and that when he’s not, I can’t wait to tell him about it.

I remember a few things about the start: the a/c was broken in the church and it was late July in Upstate South Carolina and those out of state visitors were stunned by how crazy hot it was.

We moved to Charlotte that summer and were out of work, but we only stayed three days on our honeymoon at Myrtle Beach because we couldn’t afford to stay any longer. The hotel was beachfront, our room was oceanfront, but we had to check the remote control out at the front desk. We carried the cooler upstairs and watched the end of the NASCAR race while drinking beer. We didn’t have medical insurance. We waited tables.

I remember a few things about the middle: we moved to Easley because our best friend Michael asked us to. We loved that little starter house. We bought whatever meat was on sale and then flipped open How to Cook Everything to figure out what to do with it. 

We hit happy hour two or three times a week even after Hollie was born, carrying her with us to sports bars and pool halls and patios.
That's one SERIOUS hangover.

I remember a lot of the latest: we share pride in Hollie over some of the same things (man, that kid is cool) and some different things, those things that remind us of ourselves and each other. We enjoy Sundays, our neighbors, and the country club. We worry about politics and bills and where our careers are headed.

We spend time together on the golf course, listening to live music, and in restaurants. There have always been restaurants. And we get frustrated and we get sad and we get excited and we get hopeful. 

We’re teammates. Above all. We win together and we lose together.

We’ve been in this thing together 17 years. And there’s no one I’d rather have in this boat with me. 

I love you, Charlie. Here’s to 17 more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Love Builds Confidence

Going into the archives for some classic blogs to get this blog resurrected. It's no longer The 41st Year and Life on Clemson Road is, as always, an incredible Journey.

From May 2016:

For Mother’s Day, Hollie gave me a picture card she’d drawn in school. It said: 

Mom,
You like to read and write with me, write and read, write and read, write and read. You work every day, work, work, work, work. You watch movies and shows with me, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch. You eat lunch with me on Saturday, eat, eat, eat. I love u!

Beneath it was a picture of two equally-sized people wearing orange, holding books, and standing near a restaurant booth. On the table was a hot dog (hers) and a glass of wine (mine).

My first thought was, “Way to hit that word count, girl!”

My second was, “Hollie really knows me.”

I’ve not been hiding myself from her. She knows I love to read and write. She knows I love to watch movies and Animaniacs. She knows Saturdays are our date days and that during lunch she can have sweet tea and I’ll be drinking wine.

I am who I am.

Being myself with Hollie is how I’m showing her that it’s okay for her to be herself, too.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The 42nd Year is Underway

"Easter is about hope."

That’s what the Australian-accented, boomerang-slinging bunny in Rise of the Guardians says about his holiday.

Easter is about possibility. Redemption. Renewal.

It’s rather fitting that the end of The 41st Year is Easter week. It’s fitting because when I set out to do this last year, I was really looking for renewal.

On my 40th birthday, sitting in a bar in New York City, I wrote, “This all started because Heather said, ‘Forty is a motherfucker,’ and, like most things in my life, I decided to manage my expectations.”

Forty couldn’t fuck with me if I knew what I was doing. If I had a plan. A purpose. A mission.

On the first page of the journal I bought in NYC to track The 41st Year, I wrote, “I know I’ll struggle. I know I’ll focus on the shortfalls and the challenges. I know I’ll be glaringly aware of the misses, the failures, and the face plants.”

So here they are:
I did not visit Papa 40 times. I got to Florence 11 times in the last year. It’s an hour trip and a three-hour commitment. It takes about $20 in gas round trip. I’ve been too broke and too busy. And yet each of those 11 visits filled me with a sense that my Papa appreciates me. Loves me. Is proud of me. So, I’ll try to keep my once-a-month pace and hope that will suffice.

I did not donate 40 articles of clothing or put 40 pages into Hollie’s scrapbook. I didn’t do even one for either of those. I did accept some pieces from my dear friend, Teresa, who has lost weight and gave me the six pairs of pants and four tops that have made my working full time doable these last three months. As for the scrap book, someday I’m sure I’ll wish I had captured every minute with Hollie. For now, though, I’m waiting until she’s interested in helping with the project to really take it on.

I did not submit 40 times. I submitted 27 times but now I have a weekly habit, so that’s a good thing. I feel good about the submissions. I feel like I’m getting used to rejection and that’s part of being a writer.

I did not do 40 runs, in fact I haven’t run at all. Something I regret and something I plan to remedy. Immediately. Let’s roll that goal into next year.

I didn’t get to 40 new places but I did get to 15 including two new cities: Kansas City, Missouri and Toledo, Ohio. It’s hard to travel when you don’t have any money. Some “places” that mattered this year included the Office of Business Opportunity’s Small Business Conference last May at which I was a speaker and the Winter Wheat Literary Festival where I was on faculty. The SCWA’s writers conference in the fall to which I won a scholarship and the Girls Rock! showcase where I saw my daughter play guitar on stage for the first time. I’ll take quality over quantity on that one all day long. We even got to Five Points on St. Patty’s Day which was a big achievement for Hollie and me.

I also wrote in that journal that The 41st Year was meant to provide wins. Easy ways to show progress and success.

“Say you will and then do it. No fear. No excuses. No boundaries.” Reasonable, achievable things on the list.

Categories where I killed it: Blog posts and books by female authors. I read 73 books last year and have read 28 this year so far. Nearly all of them are by women writers. My blog posts were mostly on the SCWA blog, but I also generated content for Clemson Road Consulting, Unapologetically X, and two clients. This blog, The 41st Year, has been neglected. But that’s mostly as a reflection of my glaring awareness of misses, failures, and face plants.

So, it’s Easter and this is about hope. Renewal. It’s about opportunity.

There has been so much opportunity in the last few months, really since I started The 41st Year and started being intentional about pretty much everything. Opportunities are not hiding under bushes waiting to be found like colored eggs. They’re flying past us like dandelion seeds on the wind. I’ve tried to gather them all. Chased them all. Watched them float by and wished they were mine.

Now I’m going to bloom where I’m planted.

This was an important year. A year in which I decided I am the grown-up in the room and it’s up to me to make decisions and take action. A year in which I stopped waiting for others to offer, comply, and play along.

I was so afraid that 40 would be a motherfucker. So, I geared up and took a few practice swings. When they landed, and the resistance gave way, I decided to kick its ass. And what it feels like right now is that I’m just getting started.


It feels like Game On. Bring it, 42nd Year. Show me what you’ve got.

Angel Kisses and Overwhelming Gratitude

What I usually tell people about Carol Staubach is that she failed statistics in college and she was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. Wh...