Thursday, April 4, 2013

Notice a pattern?

I still struggle with this blog's identity.  When I started writing about four years ago, I categorized myself as a book blogger.  I absolutely loved to read and I thought that writing book reviews (and other such literary posts) would be a way to focus my consistent writing efforts.  But then life happened... and while I still love to read, I have learned that I also have other interests that seem to demand a voice.  I am grateful to those of you who have chosen to continue to read my feeble words throughout these personal struggles, and I hope to find a rhythm to these posts in the very near future.

In the meantime.... here is a literary post that will give you some insight to my current obsession.  Can you notice a pattern here?  I feel almost compelled to start writing a memoir, or at the very least, a collection of family memories.  I'm not quite sure if this is related to turning 50 years old and knowing that I have lived more than half my life - or if it is related to the fact that all the "grandparents" have passed away and I am now matriarch of the family - or perhaps if it has to do with the old adage, "write what you know" and the only subject that I really know is me (or do I?  Isn't the discovery of self a lifetime process?  But I suppose that is the topic of a different blog post all together).  But whatever the reason, I have an overwhelming desire to start writing memories and I am trying to learn the best way to do that.

But at this point and time I feel as though I have read enough.  If I am going to write memories then I need to ... well... write.  Just sit down and put pen to paper (or as the case may be .. utilize the journal writing website Penzu or perhaps the Scrivener writing software).  Do I think I have lived a life that others would find worth reading?  Absolutely not.  My life is about as boring as a slice of white bread... but I harbor the idea that perhaps someday my children - or perhaps my grandchildren - might like to connect to the stories of their past and at this point, I am the only one who can provide that.  Am I the best writer for this particular task?  Absolutely not.  But I am here and I am now and I am willing.

I hope to start this endeavor sooner rather than later (that is... tomorrow...) But I know at the very least I will begin the process this summer.  I have already enrolled in the July offering of a Spiritual Journaling class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival ... and while I am very much intimidated to share my writing with others, I am also very excited to begin this next step in my writing endeavors.  In fact, I am so excited by the prospect of this new adventure that I may even enroll in the Travel Writing course offered in June.  I have harbored this dream of writing a travel memoir where the photograph that is "worth a thousand words" is accompanied by an essay of 1,500 words to create a complete short story narrative.  How cool would that be:  to marry my love of photography, travel and writing into one cohesive project?!

Yes, the future is bright and I am excited.  Life is indeed good.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Highly Sensitive Person

I have not read much fiction over the past several months, but that does not mean I haven't been reading.  Most of my library loot consists of non-fiction books on the craft of writing memoir (a post to follow shortly) and the occasional travel and photography books.  But sometime last fall I ran across this book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and I felt a strong urge to buy it sight unseen ( a rare impulse decision for this well-planned girl).  From the very first page I felt as though I had found a validation for my life.  I discovered that I am not weird or eccentric or all alone.  I learned that I am indeed "highly sensitive" (there are 20% of us other there) living in a very low to non-sensitive culture (the remaining 80%).  I took such comfort in this.  And while I have not quite learned how to navigate this world in which I must live, I feel confident that I will indeed learn strategies to help me cope.

The very first chapter offers a 23 question self-assessment - but the test can also be found online here.  Supposedly if you answer 12 of the 23 questions in the affirmative, then you are considered "HSP"  I answered 19 questions in the affirmative --- 10 of which strongly describe my temperament.  Here are my ten defining characteristics:

  1. Other people's moods affect me.
  2. I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  3. I have a rich, complex inner life.
  4. I am conscientious.
  5. I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
  6. I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
  7. I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.
  8. I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.
  9. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  10. When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.
The remaining characteristics of an HSP that I possess, although not as strongly, include:
  1. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.
  2. I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
  3. I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  4. I startle easily.
  5. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable.
  6. I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
  7. Changes in my life shake me up.
  8. I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
  9. When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.

Why do I bother sharing this on the blog?  I suppose I have two reasons.  First of all, for those of you who may also feel somewhat on the fringe of society - that you don't quite belong but you don't know why - I thought perhaps you could find yourself within the pages of this book as I have.  And secondly, for those who do know me, perhaps this will give you a bit of insight into the "real" me: the one who may seem anti-social but really is just overwhelmed;  the one who may seem stressed, but is just trying to multi-task when her temperament is singularly focused;  the one who may seem depressed but that is only because someone close to her is sad and she carries the burden as well.

Lately my world has been filled with all kinds of loss and changes (both good and bad) ... and this constant shifting of the sands has caused me to retreat - to hibernate - because I knew no other way to handle it.  And when that is compounded by the fact that I felt as though I was the only one in the world to feel this way -- to be overwhelmed by life -- well, I just wanted to withdraw from society.  But  I now know that I am not crazy... I am not a misfit ... I am Highly Sensitive, and I can accept that.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I wasn't sure what to title this post, but since I am reading A Tale of Two Cities (for the 7th time) with my Brit Lit class, I have the theme of rebirth on my mind ... and truthfully, it fits here.

I understand that the grief process is different for each individual.  And since I have never experienced grief before, I suppose I had a pre-determined image of what that would look like for me.  I imagined the scene of The Godfather movie (my husband is Italian and I am well-versed in this genre)... where the professional mourners are dressed in black, gray hair atop their heads in a tight bun, moaning and wailing in the back of the church.  Only I don't wail.  And I do not dress in black.  And I am not Italian (only married to one).

For me mourning took a different path.  I did not wail and honestly, I barely shed a tear.  My dad died in 2006 and two short months later I found myself responsible for the care of my aging mother who grieved in the form of hallucinations rather than tears.  Her psychological issues, paired with her physical limitations of orthostatic hypertension and congestive heart failure, nearly consumed me.  I was trying to raise my own children, fulfill a teaching career that at one point spanned nine different class preps, and provide her with the love and care that I knew she deserved.  In the end, she just couldn't go on ... and I assumed the guilt of allowing her to die.

I tried to mask the pain.  I treated myself to a thirty year dream of going to Paris - and while that was wonderful in so many different ways, it did not fill the void that was left inside of me.  I continued to teach, but the frustrations outweighed the long-term fruits of labor.  I was burnt out, but refused to accept my limitations.  In the end, I was fooling no one, especially myself.

So in these past two years since Mom's death I have had to do some soul searching.  What is it that truly captures my heart?  What is it that I truly wish to accomplish in life?  Who am I?

The past six months have been difficult and quite honestly, I had no idea the answer to any of these questions.  I debated retiring from teaching - but I couldn't voice that here in the off-chance that a fellow student might read it and not understand the full story behind the desire.  I managed to frustrate every person in my family and cause major anxiety and drama.  I was not me... and  yet I did not know who me was anymore.

I was no longer a daughter.  And I was now the "matriarch"  I was still a mother - and yet the mother of adult children, which is an entirely different type of parenting.  I was a grandmother and yet did not feel old enough to be called by that title.  I was a teacher and yet so weary of the grading.  What was the next step in life?  Did I have control of that step - or was it all outside my sphere of influence?

Such confusion.

But on this April Fool's Day I feel less foolish than I have in a long while.  Today I feel more in control of my own life than I have in years.  I am quite hopeful of the future and am anxious to see what new adventures await.

My granddaughter....
Family is the first priority.  And while we are not perfect, we are family.  We deeply care for one another and we refuse to give up.  I apologize for the drama I have caused, but I am grateful for the grace and forgiveness I have received.  Being a grandmother is a gift - and I cherish each and every moment of being "Olly"

Teaching a part of me.  I did not go in search of this career, it found me.  But I have welcomed this phase of life and am not yet willing to let it go.  I have the distinct privilege to work for a group of people that are not only dedicated to their craft, but also to their Savior.  And I am indeed grateful to report to an administration that looks for the good in all.  I needed a break, for sure ... but rather than quitting I have been allowed to scale back my schedule.  I will now only teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays - and I will be teaching only the classes that I truly love:  Brit Lit and English Comp.  I am indeed blessed - and I hope that I can continue to make a difference in the lives as students as they surely make an impact on my own life.

There is a quote by S. E. Hinton that goes something like this:  "If you have two friends in your lifetime you are lucky.  If you have one GOOD friend you are more than lucky."  I have never been what one would consider popular - and it wasn't until after college that I realized popular is not all it is cracked up to be.  The pressure of maintaining contact with everyone and being there when needed and providing the right amount of encouragement to all is absolutely exhausting to me.  But now that I am in my 50s I have realized that I am indeed blessed with friends.  I have three friends whom I know that I can call and they will be there for me - just as I will be there for them.  And I do not take that for granted.

And while my life is full with family, meaningful career, and friends ... I am also blessed to have interests outside these spheres that keep me mentally challenged.  I am thrilled to begin a writing endeavor (I am not yet brave enough to call it a career), and I love the idea of capturing a moment of life in photographs as well.  I enjoy creativity in the kitchen and I look forward to continuing my interest in paper crafts.  Yes. life is full - and I want to experience each glorious moment.

So while I was not officially "dead" - I do believe I was dead in spirit.  The body can only handle so much stress and I was over my limit.  I needed to hibernate - hide away - and discern how to become whole again.

But I think I am there - or almost.  And I do indeed feel reborn.  I have another half of life to live - and I intend to live it to the fullest.
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