Working towards Exceptional

My day-to-day journey to happy in little, bite-sized pieces.


Last week I did a Daily Prompt because I didn’t want to work on a piece in my drafts folder and didn’t have an idea for a fresh post. I liked where the post went and decided to do another one today. Today’s word is Exceptional.

A bit loaded for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about me, myself, and I lately. Trying to shake off the depression and reclaim my happy. Some things are working and I’m feeling better. Happy still seems elusive. Exceptional is a concept I can’t even fathom.

Part of my depression is apathy. Apathy about getting anything done. Apathy about life. The new process of scheduling every task is working to alleviate that feeling. I felt really accomplished this past weekend. I even bragged about it to my sister. It felt good. Pride.

Doing big things a little at a time. Only I can see the day-to-day change and that’s ok. The source of my pride this past weekend was my backyard. It’s overgrown with buckthorn and I’ve been saying I’ll take care of it for years. I’m actually doing it now. I set little goals and scheduled the time to do it. During the week I clear the buckthorn from the garden-ish area that is mostly weeds. Every weekend I clear one small buckthorn tree. By the end of November, I should have one corner of my yard cleared of buckthorn. Repeat for the next 2-3 falls and it will be done.

Buckthorn Corner

Once the buckthorn is cleared and I have some trees removed I can move forward with my vision of backyard. The trees are not healthy and do not provide any shade so I want to replace at least two of them with shade trees. I want to plant things that bloom in full color. The previous owner’s landscaping is all green all day. No color. That’s the opposite of me. My vision of my backyard is all the colors of the rainbow.

The backyard is on track. There is also a plan for my house. The state of my house will tell you a lot about where I am on ebb and flow of my mental health. Depression leads to clutter and mess. My house gets cleaner and I focus on decluttering when I’m coming out of my depressive periods. I’m not sure my house will ever really be clean. It’s a bit overwhelming because it’s the whole house.  I do really well with the decluttering so I’m going with that for now.

Back when I was working my company closed our corporate headquarters and relocated downtown. At the end, they were just throwing the office supplies into big dumpsters. I had the idea that I could take some of those office supplies and donate them to a school in need. That was nearly 2 years ago. Those supplies have been sitting in four big bins in my living room. Last week I went through them, wrote down what they contained and emailed an organization about the donation. Tomorrow I drop them off.

Ready-to-go clutter

My goal for the winter is to finish my living room. I started painting it and never finished. Partly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do on one of the walls. I’ve figured that out and so I’m going to add that to my schedule in December after the yardwork season ends. My vision of my living room involves lots of drawers so I can move the clutter from on-top of things to inside drawers. It’s going to be amazing.

I have plans and I’m working little, by little, to make them a reality. That reality will be exceptional.

via Daily Prompt: Exceptional


Negative Nelly

Last week I started scheduling my days. It’s been going pretty well and it’s helping do the things I want to do and the things I need to do. I’m feeling like I’m getting more done. I’m also feeling exhausted. The things I’m doing aren’t physically hard. I’ve made a concerted effort to do things that make me uncomfortable when it comes to job hunting. It’s emotionally exhausting and I’m not sure it’s even working.

One of my scheduled activities is writing. I’ve been doing a mix of finishing old posts and creating fresh posts. Today I didn’t want to tackle an old post and nothing fresh was of mind so I thought I would check out The Daily Post’s one-word prompt. Today it is Deny. I sighed. It’s such a negative word.

I’m fighting with the negative right now. I used to be a happy person who enjoyed life and its challenges. I’m not in that place right now. I know it and I’ve been trying to do things in a more positive light. I post my writings with the knowledge most of them have a negative theme. That’s part of the reason I looked to The Daily Post today. I wanted a post filled with positivity.

The reason for the schedule was to help me do the things I want to do. Writing is one of those things. Today I’m striving to make my writing more positive.

Yesterday was my Mixed Media Journaling class. Another place I’m striving for positivity. We have been working on a number of pages, adding layers of texture and color. Some of my pages are darker than I’d like. I’m making a conscious effort not to let darkness into my journal. We were finishing one of the first pages we started. It was one of my brighter pieces.

The theme of my page is Exploring. One of the layers was an abstract bookshelf. I added the names of books that have a special meaning to me to the spines of the books. One of the steps was to add a quote to the page that emphasized our theme. I chose an Octavia Butler quote:


I am exploring what that means for me. I want things to be different. I want to love my job and the people I work with. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Things were pretty ugly and stressful during my last year of work. I’m glad I was laid off as part of the downsizing because, as I look back on it, I don’t like who I became during that year. It’s taken me a long time to be sure that I want to go back into the same career. I’m nervous about getting caught up again in the negative dynamics that were happening where I worked. I do not want to return to that type of culture.

Ideally, I would like a job close to my home with a minimal commute. I’m not sure that’s realistic so am moving my focus to downtown so that I can take the train to work rather than driving. My desire is to continue to write every day and I would be able to do that on the train. I fear a long commute by car would be the end of this blog and my writing.

Keeping the ability to do the things I enjoy that are not work related is important to me. I stopped doing a lot of things for me when I was so wrapped up in work and raising my kids. I’m choosing to do more things for me. This blog. The Mixed Media Journaling class. Writing classes at the library. Reading books. Last night I was thinking I should get back into crocheting. I haven’t done that since before my daughter was born. I want to learn to sew and my sister is giving me one of her extra sewing machines so that I can do that.

Things that make me happy are a priority. I’m not denying that for myself any longer.

In search of the easy button

Last night I watched The Incredible Hulk. I’d seen it before so I was only paying partial attention. Mostly I was in my own head thinking. I’ve been spending a lot of time there lately and it usually ends up with me forgetting something or messing up. While I was distracted I did notice the recurring clock in the movie. “Days without incident”.

I can’t remember the last day I had without incident. My incidents don’t involve me turning green, but sometimes there is anger. My incidents are just my anxiety dropping by to say hello. The internal static that makes the hair on my arms stand up on end. The hole in my center that pulses and demands to be filled. The tears that fall. It’s uncomfortable and isolating and I do my best to manage it.

Management is failing me right now. I’m a logical person. Logically it makes sense that I’m having issues with my anxiety right now. I’ve been out of work for over a year. I haven’t been having much luck finding a job so that is a stressor. My savings passed a threshold I didn’t want to happen. Another stressor. My house is a fixer-upper and there are a couple things that can no longer wait to be fixed. My kids are having problems at school. I need a haircut. Stress. Stress. Stress.

Last winter brought with it depression. There was a period of time where I spent my entire day in my bedroom. The kids would leave for school and I would head back to bed. I did everything in my bedroom. I searched for a job, read books, ate, just laid there. It was warm and comforting. I didn’t feel the anxiety. I didn’t feel much other than that warmth and comfort. Now my feelings are an exposed nerve.

Today’s morning trigger was the weather report. It’s going to be 80-degrees today. That was the trigger. The underlying cause is the weight gain over the past year. I’m up two sizes. Few of my clothes have followed. I’m not working so spending money on new clothes isn’t a priority. Add the fact that I have outgrown two interview outfits. I had planned an appropriate outfit — not too casual, not too business-like. An outfit better suited to the 60’s or 70’s.

I finally settled on an outfit. It’s a bit more casual than I wanted, but it fits and I won’t melt too much. I’ll be wearing it with my anxiety. It hasn’t left me.

Surviving July

July has been a month. And then some.

It was supposed to be the month where I wrote every day. Maybe moved two short story ideas from rough draft to final copy. A focus on the memoir entries. Maybe a few reflections on current events to fill in the gaps. Writing. Every day.

Great plan.

And then the rains came.

A torrential downpour that flooded my basement the day before leaving on a vacation. I spent the day moving everything to the dry part of the basement, wet vacuuming up the water, mopping the place down with bleach and setting up the dehumidifier to run non-stop while I was away on vacation. Still had to pack and be ready for an 8-hour drive the next day.

Ready, set, off for vacation.

The plan was to write in my notebook while on vacation. The goal wasn’t 1,000 words a day for those days, but just to write. That didn’t happen. That was not a realistic goal. Two full days of driving to get to our destination, one full day spent with our family quickly followed by another two days of driving. When exactly was I going to write?

No problem. Will pick up the writing when I get home and get back on task.

I felt it starting the last day while driving home. That scratchy throat that means nothing good is coming. We made it home. Exhausted. Woke up the next morning and *IT* had arrived.

The plague.

Some people get a little sick. Not me. I commit. I was taking one of those -D drugs that you have to sign for at the pharmacy. Didn’t help. Spent most of the next 5 days in bed sleeping or out of bed feeling miserable. Writing? What’s that?

Monday was the first day I felt better. I went and did some stuff and was ready for bed by 6. It still lingers today, but it is more allergy-like than illness-like.

My daily writing goal for July is history. All I can do at this point is pick up where I left off and continue on. So that’s what I’m going to do.



Camp Break

I’m taking a couple days off from my memoir writing project. We have a busy day today and tomorrow and I’m finding that my writing flows better when I’m not trying to squeeze it into a set amount of time. 

Camp NaNoWriMo has given me some focus. The memoir entries I’m writing are meant for my kids. Some will be shared with them now and some later as they get older. I started this because I only know bits and pieces of my parents and grandparents stories. We share events. I want to share impacts. 

One thing that surprised me over the past three days is how much I want my mother and my siblings to write about the events thus far. I’m not sure I have the confidence to share with them some of what I have written. I will see how I feel at the end of the writing project. Perhaps imagining their perspectives is where my memoir becomes a novel. 

I’m starting small. Memoir entries. A few short story ideas. I don’t yet feel like I have a novel to write. My plan is to work on my short stories offline today and tomorrow. Flush out the key scenes and then start to build the rest. I haven’t written a short story since high school so I did some research about writing. I’m drawn to the concept of three, but neither of my story ideas have that. I’m hoping I can incorporate it into at least one of them. Need some more noodling to get there. 

There was a knock at the door. On the other side was a man. Scruffy. Dirty. Wearing a large backpack. Unclean.

I clung to the babysitter in fear. She asked who it was.

“It’s my father.”

This is my first physical memory of my father. I remember the fear. Unlike my siblings, I have no memories of the physical violence my mother endured at his hands. Yet this memory speaks to what I don’t remember. Why was I so afraid if I didn’t remember?

My mother talked openly to us about the abuse she suffered. Not the details, but the fact that it occurred. She attributed it to his mental health and drug abuse. I’ve always been aware of the fact, but have no memories of the violence. Yet I was afraid of him.

Other memories of him don’t involve fear. They are glimpses of activities and places. Riding in a convertible. Waiting in the car while my mom went to his hotel room to talk to him. I don’t know if these memories took place over more than that one visit to Milwaukee.

We visited him at least once in Pennsylvania. I remember playing with his band equipment in my maternal grandmother’s basement. This was after my mother had remarried. My step-father was not on the trip with us.

Limited memories of a father I never really knew. That trip to Pennsylvania was the last time I saw him alive. He sent a birthday check once. He called a couple times. The last call was disturbing and my only real glimpse of the darkness.

He called from Hawaii. He told me he was living there and dating a married woman. I felt a deep sadness for him. A grown unhappy man struggling with his demons. Sharing those demons with a child he didn’t know. Looking back I wonder if he was drunk when he called.

My last attempt to contact him was when I was graduating from high school. I sent him an invitation through my paternal grandmother. I didn’t know where he was living. Please come see me graduate from high school. He never responded.

Many years later, after he died, I learned that my half sister was born that day. A half-sister I only knew about because my brother went to our paternal grandmother’s funeral a few years after I graduated.

Somewhere along the way, I forgave him. He was as good a man as he could manage. I wish he sought the therapy he needed and maybe he did. Sometimes I wish he had kept in contact with us and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I feel like it was probably for the best that he wasn’t there.

His absence allowed us to bond with our step-father in a way that may not have been possible had he remained in our lives. We grew up in a stable home with loving parents. I can’t envision a scenario where he is involved in our lives and there is stability.

There are unhealthy parts of me that are a result of him. My first serious boyfriend was an alcoholic. I walked away when I figured that out. There is a level of paranoia about drinking that escalates when I’m dating someone. I’m not sure I will get to a place where that doesn’t happen. I’m not sure I want to.

I’ve never done drugs. Not even pot. And I couldn’t date someone who does. Drugs have always seemed like a riskier proposition than alcohol. No drug addict ever intended to be one. They just wanted to try pot or cocaine or heroin or whatever their drug of choice happens to be. Every addict starts out by “just trying”.

I keep it with me. I’m a child of an addict. I’m at a higher risk for addiction. I’ve avoided drug and alcohol addiction. I have not avoided the addictive behavior. I recognize that.

The fear of my father is forever linked to my first physical memory of him. Fear of becoming him has shaped me. Fear of loving someone like him has shaped me.

I forgave him. I accept my fears and will continue to carry them with me. Forgiven, but not forgotten.

My Memories are Lies

We moved to Milwaukee, WI, in 1974. The Milwaukee Public School System implemented an integration plan in the fall of 1976 when I was starting first grade.

I don’t recall much of first grade. We were renting an apartment and I walked to the local school. It was only a few blocks away.

My memories of integration are from second grade. By then my mother bought a house in a different neighborhood and I changed schools. We lived two blocks from a school, but our street was part of the integration plan. My brother, sister and I walked to a school that was about 10 blocks away. Greenfield Elementary School.

There were kids bussed into Greenfield Elementary School. As I child I assumed they were the integration kids – the black ones. That may not have been the full reality. I didn’t know the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Mine was all white. I have no memories of playing with black friends outside of school. There were no play dates. I played with the kids on my block.

When I would relate the experience to people one of the details that I shared was that I was one of only 4 or 5 white kids in the class. I’m not what caused that distortion. I have memories of playing Superman with one other white kid. All my other playground memories are of running around and playing tag with the black kids. My classroom memories are similar.

The most shocking thing that happened that year was when one of the boys swore at the teacher. They left the room and she washed his mouth out with soap. That’s what we were told anyway.

I have no negative memories of integration. I didn’t like the long walk to school knowing there was a school two blocks away from where we lived. I knew the school was integrated, but I had attended kindergarten and 1st grade with black kids so that wasn’t new to me. Children are aware of societal stressors no matter how much parents try to shield them. I knew the school was integrated and I knew it had a negative connotation. Negative just wasn’t my experience.

My mother put together photo albums for each us after my grandmother died. It had class pictures from my 1st and 2nd-grade classes. The pictures surprised me. They did not align with my memories. My memories contained a lie.

In my 1st-grade picture, there are a few black and brown children in my class. The teacher was black. I don’t have any specific memories of that school other than I used to take a long bus ride home from the sitter’s house. I don’t even remember how I got to the sitter’s house.

Research provided the historical timing of integration in the Milwaukee Public School System. I was not aware of integration in 1st grade. My memories in 2nd grade are connected to the walking distance, but I don’t think that is a complete picture. I don’t think that alone would have created the distortion in my memories.

Kids pick up things even when we don’t intend them to know. The information is incomplete because we don’t talk to them directly and answer their questions. They are left to fill in the details according to the patterns they observe.

I knew integration was bad because that’s the sense the adults around me gave me. There had to be a lot of anxiety associated with it. People don’t like change and will fight it when it is forced on them. Lack of control breeds anxiety and fear. Children can sense that and internalize it.

Racism and white supremacy created the need for integration. Black residents weren’t able to buy or rent outside of certain areas of the city. School districts were drawn along those same lines. It is a common theme in cities throughout the north. Systemic segregation without Jim Crow is still segregation. White people did that and that’s racism.

Every time I hear someone say they are not racist I hear a lie. A lie just like in my memories. It’s a distortion of the truth. Not calling another human being the n-word and being friends with a black person are not a “get out of racism free” cards.

I’m racist. I can’t avoid the network of privileges that are afforded to me. That network is built on white supremacy. We are all a part of a system that continues to perpetuate false narratives using coded language based on racist ideals.

Owning racism is different from acting deliberately racist toward another human being. I work to be aware of the ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated. I work to be vocal in situations where it arises. I have begun to recognize in new ways how I perpetuate it. I frequently fail and am silent. I’m learning to find a voice here in my writing. Preparation is key to confronting racism and white supremacy in the moment.

Effective change comes not just from a desire to change. Change is an action. Learning is required and provides the tools needed to bring a feeling of control back to the situation. I cannot control racism and white supremacy. What I can do is learn better skills to identify and address situations in the moment. I cannot control whether I change someone’s perspective, but I can give them another perspective in the hopes that they understand.

Where I have the biggest sphere of influence is with my children. I don’t want them to be at the midpoint of their lives and reaching this place. I want them at this place when they first become adults. I want their journey to go further and have a greater impact than mine.

I don’t know that I believe in the mountaintop. It seems to be a mythical goal to me. I’m choosing to focus on the journey and picking a path with the destination in mind.