Failure

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Moms, do you ever feel like you are failing at this whole mothering thing?

Do you look around you and see so many people who seem to be functioning on such a higher level?

Do you just feel like you simply are not enough no matter how hard you try?

I do.  All the time.

Both big girls woke me up early this morning.  First Magoo and then Goosie climbed into my bed.  I don’t mind this.  TJ is always long gone for work by the time we wake up, so it’s nice to have someone to wake up with.

But just as I was closing my eyes to get a few more minutes of sleep, Magoo started screaming.  Her belly was hurting her.  I ran downstairs to check on her after she ran down, and the crying and screaming didn’t stop all day.  It’s still going on.

And then there are all of the Easter gifts that the little two want to do right now.  Every intensive activity or box that needed to be opened, needed to be opened that instant.  Or else screaming would ensue because they were both overly exhausted.

In other words, it has been a long day.  There is a mess everywhere.  I have a neck migraine.  My right eye will not stop twitching.  And I’m putting out fires everywhere I look.

And when I have a moment to breathe, all I can hear is the word, “failure” screaming at me at piercing decibels.

And why?

Because I didn’t organize the Easter gifts yet?  Because I had planned to go grocery shopping today and couldn’t because of Magoo’s illness so I was scraping together crappy meals for the kids to eat all day?  Because I only had the energy to do half a dozen crafts?  Or because I finally gave in and just let them watch television because everyone was miserable.

I think it’s all of that.  And none of that.

I just don’t function well with little structure.  I never have.  And it’s a part of this lifestyle. We build in as much structure as we can, but with only one adult around all day and three little ones, a lot gets left aside.

The girls’ clothes don’t always match.

Sometimes Mae wears mismatching shoes.

I don’t even know if we own any socks that match each other.

Their organized drawers get destroyed every time they go into one of them to find something.

They throw papers all over the floor.

They don’t keep the pieces of puzzles together.

I find random Barbie doll heads throughout my house.

And to be honest, I don’t know if this makes me a failure.

My kids are happy.

They are loved.

They are relatively emotionally balanced.

They do well at school and with friends and just in general out in the world.

And I think they feel secure.  I pray they feel secure.

But how much is enough?  Are those things enough?  Or do the details matter as well?  Am I teaching them to be messy because their toys aren’t always (or ever sometimes) put away?  Am I teaching them to be lazy because sometimes I just need to sit down and read or zone out on my phone?

Would they be better with someone who was more productive?  More organized?  More on top of things?

Or are my weaknesses just like anyone else’s weaknesses?  No better or no worse?

I ask these questions because I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know the answers.  I believe in perfection, so trying to find an acceptable place short of perfection is confusing to me.  I worry giving up high standards will make me complacent.  Will make me a failure.

And it’s hard to judge by other people.  Some people think scattered toys is normal.  Some think they should be cleaned up every night or even more often.

And so they say to go by my standards.

But I don’t even know what those are.

And I wonder if I’m alone in this.  Is this just an extension of neuroticism or is it an extension of motherhood?

This life as a mother is so confusing.  Never before have I done anything so important, and yet never before have I done anything where the expectations are so vague.

All I know is that I’m grateful for tomorrow.  Because today just did not cut it.

Posted in anxiety, Depression, Motherhood | 1 Comment

Faith Like A Child – 365

I remember being in Catholic school as a child and hearing constantly about how everyone is supposed to strive for the faith of a child.  It made me feel special at the time.  I was child, and something in me was so magnificent that even grown ups strived for it.  I always liked hearing those things.  About how Jesus would call the children to him, how children were special to him.

Flash forward a couple of decades and that same idea that used to make me feel so special started to confuse me.  The faith of a child?  How can a child have true faith?  How can we so abandon our intellects and our maturities and come to that same simple understanding?  Why is simple understanding even worth striving for?  Isn’t understanding and sophistication what we should be striving for?

And then I was sitting at Holy Thursday Mass with my six year old last night.  The Tridiuum Services have kind of become our special time, just me and her while Daddy stays home with the little two.

I looked over and saw her praying, her eyes down.  She wasn’t praying that way because it makes her look holy (and incredibly cute.)  Rather, that’s what Jesus asks of her, so that is what she does.

During the homily, she leaned over and asked me for the rosary.  Occasionally I would glance down and see her moving the beads between her fingers, her lips silently moving with the prayers.

On the way home I told her that I admire her holiness.  I told her that I try to learn from her how to be more holy.  Her eyes got wide, and she asked me why I am trying to learn from her.  And I told her it’s because little children have a special faith in God, and that He wants all adults to try to strive to be like them.

And it made me think.  We grown ups of the world have a lot to teach our children about faith.  We have to teach them about Jesus and the Passion and the promises and the responsibilities.

But when it comes to faith, I’m not sure if it is we who should be the teachers.  In matters of faith, I think perhaps we our the ones who need to close our mouths and open our ears and our hearts.

I would never deny the fact that I struggle with doubts and trust and faith.  I still don’t understand exactly how to have the faith of a child.  How to simply trust and simply be and simply rest in the presence of the Lord.

I have three little girls though, and in them, I have been blessed with the greatest of teachers.

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Lostish

Sometimes I feel like I was born without armor.  And a tether.

Like I was born without whatever it is that is needed to keep myself in and the bad stuff out.  That thing that allows us to feel good about ourselves.  That part that can hear criticisms and can take them in and then shut them out.  Allowing us to weather the storms without them tearing us down from the outside in.

I wish what other people said didn’t bother me.  I wish I could hear words spread carelessly, not even about me always, and realize that they are about an idea of me rather than me.  That they are about a philosophy rather than a real, life, three dimensional, perfectly complicated human being trying to maneuver through a world that sometimes feels so foreign.

I wish callous words didn’t crush.

I wish judgment didn’t debilitate.

And yet the ironic thing is that I’m my biggest judge and my biggest critic.

I was lying in bed tonight trying to fall asleep.  And I felt like I was floating away in every direction.  I felt like there was nothing to ground me.  To make me feel solid.  To make me feel whole.

That’s the hard part of this mothering gig for me.  Yea there are parts that require patience.  But those are all minor in comparison to the joys.  The real struggle I have is with the aloneness.  With the fact that I am pretty much my only judge.  That others can tell me the big things — feed the kids, don’t hit, don’t leave them alone in parking lots with strangers — but only I can decide everything else.

And that everything is big – meal composition, free time activities, screen time, bed time, discipline, word choice, school choice…

There’s no one to tell me what to do.  There’s no one to tell me if what I am doing is right or if it’s wrong.

So I sit here assuming it’s wrong.  All wrong.

Some day I would like to adopt a little voice.  The little voice would tell me what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong.  The voice would build me up when I feel torn down.  It would correct me if I veer off track.  It would remind me of who I am and what I value.  Even when others think that who I am and what I value isn’t so great.

But there’s no Humane Society for little voices.  Those of us who have lost ours simply need to find it.  Or regrow it.  Or welcome it home.

Life isn’t easy, and it wasn’t intended to be easy.  But when I lay down in my bed at night with the lights off and the light sound of cars outside my window, I wish I felt less like I was floundering, less like I needed to hang onto the sides of the bed to keep myself grounded.  Less lost.

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Best Mom in the World

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I have a lot of writers I love.  Frank McCourt, Khaled Hosseini, Toni Morrison, and J M Coetzee rank among some of my favorites.  But my all time favorite writer in the history of the universe is my six year old.

I think there’s something remarkable about watching a little baby who can’t even hold up her head turn into this little person who can read and write and talk and have ideas and express those ideas as well as her creativity.

They always say all parents think their children are the greatest.  And I totally get why.  It’s easy to fall in love with a child.  But when it’s your own and you see them at their very best and their most vulnerable, and you see them grow and change and expand… well, it’s nearly impossible to miss the miracle in that.

Last week at school, Magoo’s class was asked to write a story about spring.  Hers was about Goosie taking twenty kites all at once (a very Goosie thing to do, I must say,) and drifting off into the sky with them.  Magoo then went to try to save her and got carried away as well.  Mae tried to join in the fun, and even though Magoo warned her against it, she hopped on followed by “Father.”  All of a sudden Mom ran over and went to grab them all and ended up pulling them all down to the Earth.  “How did you do that?” all the neighbors asked.  I, self-deprecetangly, was thinking it must be because of my size, but then I read Magoo’s rationale.  The mom saved them with a touch of love, she wrote.

And I might be the corniest, most sentimental sap in the world, but that got me.  Big time.

The mother didn’t save her with her wit or her body or her intelligence or her super power.  She saved her with her love.

And I’m not the smartest or the prettiest or the fastest or the most accomplished or the most disciplined.  But nobody loves those girls like their father and I do.

So if I have imprinted any perception of myself onto my girls’ hearts, I pray that it would be love.

And apparently I have.

And I’m sure tomorrow she’ll probably write a story about the evil queen mother who does all sorts of wicked things to her offspring.

But today she didn’t.

I always have her keep her writings in one place so she has them to look back on when she is older.

But I took this one and put it in my pile of keepsakes so that I can look back on it when I’m older.

Because I could list for you a hundred things I do wrong in less than a moment.  But here’s proof of one that I did right.

And now I’m just going to relax for the night and wrap myself up in that thought.  It might be silly to let a story impact me that much.  But I’m a mom.  And that’s our prerogative.

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First Dates

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They asked me to get them ready upstairs.  They didn’t want Daddy to see them before they were all ready for the dance.

Magoo asked me to straighten her hair.  Her hair is always straight.  But I spent twenty minutes with a flat iron getting it even straighter than straight.  Because every girl deserves to look like a princess.

Goose asked me to make her hair longer.  She wanted hers flat ironed as well.  But she wanted hers to be curly.  I fumbled with a hair brush and a cold flat iron and fawned over how amazing her hair looked.  Because a dance to a three year old is every bit as exciting as Cinderella’s ball.

Tonight I got to hear giggles about boys.  I heard about the cute ones.  And the funny ones.

I ran downstairs and told Daddy that they were ready.  He stood at the bottom of the stairs and showed just the amount of wonder and pride as a Daddy should when his dates arrive to meet him.

They are on their way to pick up their corsages.  Because a girl learns how she should be treated on a date by her first date, her dad.

And I can’t help but flash forwarding a few years.  When Mom with a flat iron and last year’s Christmas dresses won’t be enough.  When there will be worries about earrings and updos and the perfect dress.

And I’ll giggle with them and fawn over dresses and get every bit of excited as they will at their foray into teenage dances.

And then they’ll leave, and TJ and I will be left here, hoping we have taught them enough.  Hoping the example we have set will set them on their way to happy and healthy times.  Hoping the boy who holds their hands is worthy of the honor of holding their hearts.

But for now I rest assured, knowing that their date tonight is the one I chose for myself many years ago.  Before they were a twinkle in our eyes.

So dance away my little princesses.  Your date is a prince.  He’s my prince, and I couldn’t be more honored that he has become yours as well.

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Big News

Nope – I’m not pregnant.  Sorry to disappoint.

But I do have big news.  Very, very soon, I am going to start writing a blog for Psych Central.  I think I have been too excited/nervous to share the news until now.

It’s not quite the New York Times, but it is exactly (exactly!) what I have been wanting for so long.

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety, obsessive/compulsive tendencies, and depression.  I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I’ve struggled with depression off and on for a large portion of my adult life.

During the worst of these times, I would just sob, asking myself “Why me?  Why do I have to be saddled with these demons?”

And somewhere inside of me, even during those times, I knew the answer.  I have these struggles because I can share them.  The shame I do sometimes feel over these struggles isn’t enough to stop me from sharing my story.  And I have a story to share.  For all those nights I lied in bed feeling all alone, believing no one else ever experienced life in the same distorted way that I did, I could share my story and make others feel less alone.

I was straddled with these struggles because I could be a voice for the voiceless.  I could speak our truth.  I can assure that no one who reads my words ever has to feel alone in their anxieties or their panic or their depression.

We live in an awfully complex and sometimes frightening world.  We all have so much to contend with.  We have so much to overcome.  And really the only way to make it smaller and safer is to find others who are willing to understand us.

There are as many ways to do this as there are people.  My way to do it is through writing.

I’m still going to be blogging here and at Mothering and at Catholic 365.  I find each different venue gives me a place to voice different aspects of my story.  I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything.  But helping others is my passion, and I don’t know any other way to do it as well as through sharing my struggles with mood issues.

But I would like to honestly thank all of you.  When I started this blog I was sure no one would read it.  And then I was terrified that people would read it.

But you did read it.  And you continued to come back.  And I cannot tell you how much that has helped me and how much that means to me.  How it has strengthened me.  How it has fortified me for the challenges of life.  You helped me find my voice.  You helped remind me of who I am when I’m not mommy.  And you helped me find the confidence to come out from behind the rock, share my story, and refuse to be ashamed of my truths.

Please pray for me that I am able to be the voice that people need.  That my words can help someone.  That we can work together to make this world just a little smaller.

This is a dream of mine.  Thank you to all of you who gave me the courage to pursue it.

Posted in Depression, writing | 1 Comment

What Mothers Give

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Every time spring rolls around, I am brought back to the spring of 2008.  Spring bloomed that year just as my pregnancy with Magoo was starting to come to a close.

We had waited so long for that pregnancy, and we had waited so long to meet her.  The pregnancy wasn’t without complications, and so the closer and closer we got to 30 weeks and then 34 weeks and then 36 weeks, the more relief I felt.  With each day, she was getting bigger and stronger and more able to handle the world.

We painted her nursery a deep purple.  I had made Care Bear rugs for her windows.  Every day after work I would come home and go straight to her room and start organizing all the freshly laundered new clothes that she would soon be wearing.

I can remember the smell of the room.  I can remember just how the sun rested upon the objects in the room.  And I can remember the awe and the joy and the anticipation.

I close my eyes, and I can be right back there.

I was thinking about this yesterday, and I was thinking about how fun it would be to go back to that time just for a moment or two.  Just to experience that height of emotions and that eager longing we felt for our family.  The family that would grow significantly in the next few years.

One thing I don’t remember is exactly what I believed motherhood was at that time.  I knew I wanted to be a mom.  I knew I wanted to carry around the infant car seat everywhere I went.  I was excited to use my new diaper bag.  I knew I wanted to see her face.  I longed for the days when I would cuddle her in my arms.  I loved her deeply already, and I wanted to be able to shower that love onto her.

And that is exactly what I did when she was born.  Just like first time parents the world over do, I doted.  I refused to put her down.  I would feel empty if I let her sit in her bouncy seat for more than a couple of minutes.

I documented it.  Man did I document it.  I would spend hours taking shot after shot trying to get the camera to show just what I saw when I looked at her.  But a camera can only make out shapes and colors.  They couldn’t see the love that filtered my every glance at her.

That was a long time ago.  It seems like a lifetime ago.

I took the little two to Mass today.  We weren’t inside the church all that long as little miss Mae decided she didn’t want to be quiet.  I took her in the back where she proceeded to do laps and squeal and try to escape outside.  I took them grocery shopping afterwards, and that was even less productive.  I just put them down for a nap, but not before Mae could dump out three glasses of milk all over the floor, dump out half a box of Cheerios, and beg to eat anything but the one thing I had made her for lunch.

Having a two and a three year old is crazy making.  It makes the house crazy, and it makes me crazy.

But on the way home, I put on this song by Garth Brooks…

I played it over and over again.

And I was struck with the magic of motherhood.

Yes, they run away from me in public places.  But that’s because they know I will follow.

Yes, they test their limits and see what they can get away, and that’s because they know my love doesn’t follow the whims of my moods, and it’s not dependent upon their actions.

They might keep me up all night, many nights, but that’s because they want me near them, comforting them.  They want to remember the smell and the touch they knew before I knew their faces.

They want to be with me, practically on top of me, most of their waking hours.  And that feeling of being touched out can be acute.   But my personal space is a gift I give.  Not always happily but always freely.

And I give them my time.  I make their meals and wash their clothes and change diapers and do potty duty.  I read to them.  I sing to them.  I dance with them.  I make silly faces to make them laugh.

I listen, patiently, to Magoo’s stories.  The stories that can go on for hours.  The stories she saves for me.  She’s not very shy.  She’s pretty extroverted.  And yet there are some things that she saves only for my ears.  And the responsibility of that and the privilege of that… I’m not sure what could possibly compare to being the keeper of secrets and the guardian of hearts so precious and so dear and so innocent.

When I think back to those heady days I lived waiting for Magoo to make her appearance, I realize that I didn’t know how difficult motherhood would be.  And because of that, I didn’t know, I didn’t have any clue, just how joyous and blessed it is.

Motherhood changes us.  There is no doubt about that.  And it changes us because it infiltrates every aspect of our lives.  It asks more of us.  It demands more of us.  And because of that, it stretches us.

Anyone can love a child.  It’s remarkably easy.  But only a parent will dedicate their lives to that child.

And that is a blessing and a calling and a vocation.  It’s not a job.  It’s not a list of tasks.  It’s a giving of oneself, wholly and completely.

And to be that person for someone, to hold that tremendous amount of responsibility…

To be that trusted and that needed and that wanted…

Well, it’s the closest thing to Heaven that I have found.

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Seeking Radical Grace

Can we all make a collective promise, right now, to try to show ourselves mercy and grace? And can we then have enough mercy and grace to forgive ourselves when we fail in this endeavor?

I have had a really rough time the past two days.  I’ve just been in a major funk.  I’ve found it hard to function on the level I have wanted to.  I’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed and lethargic.  I haven’t been very patient, and I look around at all the mess that accumulated over the weekend, and I get down.  I feel like I can’t get on top of it.  It’s like it sits there taunting me, telling me I’ll never be good enough.

And yet I try to treat people with respect.  I try to teach my girls to respect themselves and others.  I preach forgiveness to them until I am blue in the face.  Before they are even able to speak, I lecture them about the human proclivity towards error and I then urge them to always forgive themselves and always show mercy towards others.

But children have this nasty little habit — they tend to learn from what we do rather than what we say, and they tend to understand more about what we do than we think or wish they do.

And so, of course, that gives me even more reason to beat myself up.  Not only in this mindset hurting myself, but it’s slowly sleeping into my girls’ consciousness.

I don’t know about you, but I have an extraordinarily hard time allowing myself grace.  I actually actively rebel against it.  I fear it more than I fear almost anything.

To me, showing myself grace means complacency.  It brings us too close to abandoning our standards.  My deepest fear has always been that if I learn to forgive myself, I will give myself permission to act recklessly.  I guess deep down I believe that holding myself to strong standards and refusing to allow myself grace for failures actually keeps me in line, and without that, I couldn’t trust myself.

And the ironic part is that the lack of grace actually draws me more deeply into depression and complacency.  It makes it harder for me to function how I would like to.  And I have a sneaking feeling that it doesn’t do the job of keeping me on track that I think it does.

And so then I go back to my original question.

What if we offered ourselves radical and unconditional grace?  What if when we erred, we made our amends, and then we refused to wallow in it or allow ourselves to be defined by it?  What if we were active examples of God’s grace in this world?

How would things be different if you did a one week experiment where you refused to judge yourself?

I tend to think our world would be a bit kinder.  A bit brighter.  And a whole lot gentler.

Ironically, there shouldn’t be anything radical about grace.  It should be built into our souls.  But it’s not.  It gets lost somewhere in this world just like most virtue does.

But if we hold our grace close to our hearts, if we hold on to it as deeply as we hold onto anything, if we distribute it to both ourselves and others with total abandon… well, just think how much more light would surround us.  How much freer we would be.  How much less encumbered.

It’s a tall task.  It requires more of us than we can sometimes give.  We won’t find very many examples out in this world of it.  It will occasionally make us feel vulnerable and different.

But very rarely can change come without vulnerability, and never can change come when we follow the standards of this world.

Grace can change the world out there, and it can change the world inside our hearts.  We just need to trust in it and follow it.  It might feel like jumping off a cliff, but my guess is that instead of falling, we will soar.

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One of Those Days

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Today within thirty seconds of waking up, Mae and Goose had both jumped in my bed and were physically fighting each other over who got to lie closest to me.  I’m the only one who got hurt.

Mae has refused to eat anything of any nutritional value whatsoever.  Daddy brought home donuts on Saturday.  She knows they are in the cabinet.  She is on a hunger strike until I give in and feed her them and only them.

She has also learned how to open the silverware drawer.  All she can reach is the knife cubby.  No good is going to come of this.

I broke out the dry erase markers this morning so the little two could play with their new easel.  There is more marker on their faces…and hands…and clothes than on the actual board.  That’s okay because they have already lost all of the caps, so the markers are sure to not work for more than another day or two.

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The fights in here rival the WWF except on a much shorter scale.  I’m not sure if the majority of their moves are actually allowed in civilized fighting.

I let Mae cry it out at nap time.  This was only the second time in almost seven years that I let a child cry it out.  I was at a loss.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I judge myself for this more than anyone else could.  And yet I don’t regret it.  Sometimes temper tantrums are just temper tantrums even when they occur in bed.  It didn’t last that long.  Still, I feel guilty.

On the way home from school today, Magoo told me that she couldn’t wait to become a mother.  She told me that she thinks it’s going to be so awesome when she has her own kids.

And I almost started to cry.  Because it is awesome.  It is so awesome.

Even though sometimes I find myself trying to will bed time to come.  Even though sometimes the constancy of the door opening every thirty seconds while I shower for someone to tattle makes me want to scream.  Even though sometimes I do scream.

Sometimes I think I’m just not selfless enough.  I try to remember that to love is to sacrifice and that when we love deeply we sacrifice constantly.

And I like that portion of it.  I like that it’s hard.  I like that it requires so much.  I like that it allows me to look outward and give rather than receive.

But every so often, it makes me want to hide under the bed and not come out until tomorrow.

Today is one of those days.

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This Writing Life

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Writing is really weird.

But it’s weird in good ways.

Some times I sit here and I think something, and then I write it out, and the most amazing thing happens… people read it!  If I post it to one of the other blogs I write for, sometimes tens of thousands of people read it.

And I don’t really know what to do with that.

On the one hand, it’s really cool.  In fact, it’s about the coolest thing I can think of.  It’s what I have wanted to do my entire life, and now I am doing it.  Me.  Of all people, me.

On the other hand, it’s really scary.

I’ve never heard of a self confident writer.  I’m sure there exists one somewhere, but as a lot, we are a doubting group.  We are always our worst critics.  And for every high we get from sharing our words, we have thousands of moments huddled  in corners, scared to show our faces to the light.

And the thing with writing is that we do it without knowing where it is going.  Most of us (myself most definitely included) don’t have people knocking down our doors begging us to write best sellers.  There’s no guarantee that our words will reach anyone at all.  And if they do, what will people think?  Will they be welcomed and enjoyed, or will we be humiliated, metaphorically standing in front of a classroom in only our knickers like that dream so very many of us have.

And then there’s the whole issue of blogging in general.  There’s less of a filter in this medium.  For the most part, there is instantaneous publication.  I think a thought, I write it down, I hit the little blue button, and Bam!  Out it goes into the world.  With the other sites I write for, there is a slight delay.  But I tend to get writer’s amnesia.  I forget what it is that I write as soon as I have written it.  It’s kind of like childbirth.  Once I go through the experience, it’s erased from my memory.

I’ve considered writing in other formats.  I’ve considered freelancing.  I’ve (ever so briefly) considered fiction.  Those felt a bit more comfortable on the one hand.  There’s a bit more distance for me.  I can hide behind characters and say that it’s not really me.

But on the other hand, that’s now what I want to do.  I don’t want to write about someone else’s topic, and I don’t want to take the time or effort required of fiction.  I want to think my thoughts and share them unfiltered.

And that is absolutely and completely crazy.  Who opens their minds and shares what’s in them?  Especially to people they know.  After all, I have no problem writing for other sites for strangers.  I wouldn’t care if a hundred million strangers read my deepest thoughts.  But a handful of people I know?  That’s as scary as any precipice I can imagine.

I’ve been thinking about this writing life lately.  It gives me a high.  In so many ways, it is exactly what I have always wanted to do.  I feel blessed beyond measure.  And yet I feel silly and frivolous.

And I guess that’s just what it is.  I guess maybe those tough parts don’t really go away.  Maybe we just get better at dealing with them?

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