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Whisperings of @HWsWhisperer

Welcome, my friends, to the blog that never ends. I’m so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.

I appreciate you stopping by. I’m about to start a blogging journey into the world of reality TV, coping with depression, life as a real-life housewife, and occasional images that I capture as a hobbyist nature photographer. If that sounds eclectic and all over the place…welcome to my mind.

I hope you’ll join me on this adventure, even if it’s only for the topics that interest you personally. Grateful, to be honest, that you found your way here and were willing to take the time to see what it’s about.

Stay tuned for updates, or better yet, subscribe so they come directly to you! Wishing you a blessed day!

Before, During, And After The Storm

For those of you who don’t know me personally, a tornado hit my small rural hamlet on July 6, 2022. Riding the heels of Ohio’s first Independence Day where fireworks were actually legal, it caused quite a shock to our senses. Granted, there’s no “good” time for disaster to strike, but this definitely qualifies as a blindside.

Rain had been predicted, which most residents in the Ohio Valley know to mean that somewhere in the Tri-State there will be a period of about 20 minutes where outdoor activities get a little soggy. The temporary break in the humidity following the rain makes it a welcome event, well worth clothing being dampened by something aside from your own sweat. At a point “pop-up” showers changed into a potential threat of severe weather. Gazing up at the azure blue skies and marshmallowy white clouds assured us that it must be Indiana getting that kind of action, or Northern Kentucky perhaps, but certainly not us.

We were in the midst of having our roof repaired after a series of brief weather events finally penetrated through the shingle layers causing a pot-catching sized leak around our furnace. The roofers had already affixed the new shingles the previous week, and on this day were tearing off our old soffits.

Delayed in their tear down by a swarm of carpenter bees that we didn’t know had taken squatting license under our eaves, the men were finally starting to nail on the new boards. I rarely have interior lights on during the day, having been asked nigh on a million times as a child,”Do you think I work for the electric company?” I noticed a darkness falling over the normally well-lit living room and decided to pop outside to see if the marshmallow cloud family had just gathered together for a reunion, or if actual rain was about to appear.

Stepping out the front door, I see my husband trying to help the kind young man originally from Monterrey (now a proud Ohioan) standing on and next to metal ladders beneath clouds whose visage had changed from marshmallow to campfire smoke. I yell to the roofer Eddie over the din of the nail gun’s air compressor, “¿Estoy loco?” Then, not knowing the word for lightning in Spanish, I just hollered it in English. Eddie, whose English is miles beyond my ability to speak in his native tongue, flashed a megawatt smile and said, “When it rains, I stop. Okay?”

He also pointed out that it appeared to be moving north. Being a directionally challenged blonde, I grabbed my trusty cell phone to pull up the weather radar. A large band of green, yellow, red, and pink filled the radar screen. The pink, normally reserved for celebrating the arrival of a baby girl or the presence of Pepto Bismol, instead forecasts doom on a weather map. I ran out the door, cell phone flailing and temporarily unable to access the word “rosa” from my woefully small Spanish lexicon. Thunder now harmonized with the caucophonous song of the compressor and I shouted, “Pink. Not rojo, pink! Es malo!” Eddie’s eyes widened and he started to mutter, “Pink, not red,” over and over as we clamored to gather all the tools and supplies that could be ruined.

Drops began to fall as we were finishing up and we all stood with our arms outstretched and faces upturned to enjoy the cool bath that was relieving the stress of our hurried actions and the heat we’d been toiling in. We were actually laughing and smiling and I even managed a chunky grandma pirouette. All of a sudden, as if the saturated clouds were being wrung out by an unseen pair of hands, a deluge came pouring down. We raced for the cover of the open garage, still giggling like children. Then the text came.

To be precise, it was a text, an instant message, and a missed call from my middle sister.

“Are you talking shelter?”

“The news is saying a tornado was spotted by the lake.”

Before I could listen to the voicemail, the power flickered once, then twice, and John and I both stared intently at the lone bare bulb in the garage. Eddie, being unfamiliar with the rural parts of Ohio was likely curious about our frozen intensity, and his cousin who is new to the US in general was probably baffled. Our fixed gazes were waiting to see if a third flicker was coming. Like many of the “Rules of Threes,” power in the country flashing a third time is no bueno. It means you’re definitely going to lose electricity. Number three arrived and we were plunged into darkness.

My brain finally registered what my sister’s multiple messages had conveyed. I told my husband John, Eddie, and his cousin that we needed to get inside. A tornado was close. The roofing duo resisted. I’m not quite sure if it was out of professional courtesy, or my lack of knowledge of how to say tornado in Spanish, but we overrode their objections and guided them inside.

At first they didn’t want to enter beyond the mudroom. For those unfamiliar with said room, it’s pretty much what the name implies. It’s the area of the house where you strip off mud-caked shoes or clothing soiled by a variety of countrified labors. Unfortunately in this case, it also has three windows that no longer open. Not the best place to be standing if the tornado paid a visit. Through multiple combinations of welcoming and discouraging hand gestures we convinced them to come as far as the kitchen.

Our quartet stared as one out the lone window in the kitchen that looked over the backyard. Our eyes were affixed to the wavy looking weather vane. It appeared misshapen because of the wall of water coming down over the gutterless roof. It was spinning wildly. Not just the face that tells you there is wind, but the entire head pointing first North, then Southeast, followed by West and every incremental direction imaginable. Figuring out where it was coming from or heading to was utterly impossible.

I began scurrying about the house to collect my significantly immense hoard of candles for light. Soon enough we were bathed in a glow that rivaled the incandescent bulbs of yore.

Once our unexpected houseguests no longer had to feel like strangers in the dark, I began trying to call my sister. Cell reception is spotty in our house under the best conditions. In fact, we still have a landline to compensate. The only problem is our landline (for cost-cutting purposes) is now bundled through cable. No power equals no cable equals no landline. I managed to find a spot where if I stood as still as a marble replica of myself, I could get a connection that allowed two words for every five to come through. Thankfully being sisters for 51 years gave us the gift of speaking in shorthand. My brother-in-law was watching the news coverage and relaying the pertinent information to my sister who then passed it to me.

The storm was moving fast. (No, duh! We could see that. What about the tornado?) The tornado had already hit and was dissipating. Thank God! The lake my sister had referred to is less than a mile from our house. It’s actually a state park, but not the fancy kind with rangers patrolling. I felt relief that while some wildlife might have their habitats disturbed, at least our human neighbors would be spared. I relayed the news to Eddie, who translated it for his cousin. The rain was all but gone and they smiled and told us they’d be back to finish the next day. Adioses and waves were exchanged and John and I went back inside expecting our electricity to be restored in an hour or two. Totally delusional in hindsight.

You see, the reports had been inaccurate. The tornado didn’t hit a mile east of us, displacing trees and wildlife. It had hit two miles west of us, right in the center of our two stoplight town. My phone was flooded with messages asking if we were safe. As I responded to them in rapid succession, I noticed the 4G icon change to 3G then to 1x, then disappear altogether. Our sole remaining connection beyond what we could see with our own eyes was now severed. Nerve-wracking, frustrating, infuriating…pick your adjective. I was somehow still receiving texts, but everything going out was stuck on either “Sending.” or “Queued.” I hated the thought of loved ones worrying needlessly, and also my inability to know what was going on a stone’s throw away.

Pictures requiring downloads filled my texting app. So. Annoying. I obviously appreciated the efforts to alleviate my ignorance, but those dang white and gray boxes were a vicious taunt in the moment. I decided to hop into my car and see if the next street over had better Verizon reception. They have far fewer trees than our densely wooded property, not to mention I’d be away from our veritable Farraday cage of a house.

The next cross street is a mere 600 yards away, so my 17 year old silver Cobalt and I made the trek. As I mentioned before, this road had fewer trees. It still did, but the ones they had were in starkly different positions than the last time I had travelled down that lane. Some were split in two with the top half reclining on the ground next to its former appendage. Others were completely uprooted in tandem with giant mounds of dirt clinging to their root systems. And sadly several had found new resting places on the rooves of my neighbors’ homes.

The shock of it had sent my original mission straight out of my mind. I sat there mouth agape soaking in the destruction. Never in my half century-plus on earth had I been this close to a natural disaster. There’s a separation that occurs when you see images from far-flung places on a screen. A subconscious, “I’m here and that is there,” that dulls the impact. We may feel sadness or shock when we see it, but we can’t feel the energy of it. In person, the energy is undeniable and overwhelming.

I snapped back to completing the goal I had set out to do and phoned our kids to let them know we were safe. Their concern now allayed, I saw a text from John on my phone. I had failed to tell him of my 600 yard jaunt and horrible visions were running through his mind. Utterly thoughtless of me to not have predicted that, because I definitely would have felt the same if our roles were reversed. I made a U-ey in an unmarred driveway and returned.

I learned why his fears had been amplified. He’d found a nook in the house where he could both send and receive texts. The news was bad. Homes and businesses and even a large chunk of our firehouse had been swooped up in the tornado’s vortex and strewn about town. Our in-ways and out-roads had been converted into a sadistic rat maze. People desperate either to make their way home (if it still existed,) or intent on escaping the chaos were met with tree-blocked streets or live wires halting their routes.

I tried phoning friends in the area, one of my closest being the bartender at our local watering hole. I repeatedly heard the dreaded Verizon mistress’s voice notifying me that my call couldn’t go through. Panic set in and a deep need to know that my friend was okay overtook me. Never wanting my rare overly emotional nature to be on display -even to my husband- I played it off to John that we had earned a drink and should head up to Critters. He lodged no objection, and was in fact happy to have a way to numb the panic I’d just caused him.

We drove the mile or so in the opposite direction of my original trip and the road looked like it always did. Nary a roof out of place or tree toppled except for a pine in our own yard that we should’ve felled long ago. The pub was dark when we arrived, but there were several cars already parked out front. Darkness doesn’t bar one from imbibing afterall. The front door was locked, but before we had a chance to take a step from it, Becky popped out from around the side of the building to greet us. Instant relief on my part that my friend was okay, and a smile on John’s face as well knowing a well-earned shot of tequila was within his grasp.

If you don’t frequent or have a local watering hole, you may not be aware of what a hub of information they are. The proof in that pudding was served up when Bec whipped out her phone to show us video and stills that she and the bar’s owner Ty had already amassed. They had seen the debris swirling in the air from the bar’s front porch. Once the storm passed they rushed to see what was still standing and what could be done to help. John and I immediately felt like a couple of slackers in comparison, but it didn’t stop us from entering the pub for a jigger of tequila and an Amish cream soda respectively.

Bec’s coverage rivaled any of the news crews who trickled in much later in vans and helicopters. Rumored destruction of our only grocery store was quickly debunked by my fact-finding friend. And not just flatly denied, but attached to a tale of her friend Jim who had waited out the storm in the store’s parking lot. Other rumors proved true, however, and were evidenced in color photos. Our firehouse was half of its former self. Houses were either untouched or leveled in some twisted game of duck, duck, goose.

The energy I spoke of earlier had shifted to one closer to that of adrenaline. More locals began trickling in for their own one-on-one news sessions, so we paid our tab, tipped the remainder of Mr. Jackson and bid our customary “Thanks,” and “See ya!” We headed back to the Farraday cage we call home.

Both during the ride and after arrival was a bit of a rambling mess of non sequiturs. Our brains were both overloaded, and while John and I often wind up on the exact same page, our methods of arriving there are vastly different. I want to quietly flip through the Dewey decimal based card catalogue, and he wants to discuss things in depth with the librarian. He won out and we talked about anything and everything even tangentially related to the day’s events.

We marveled at the sheer randomness of who and what was spared. We mapped out a plan to preserve the ungodly expensive groceries I had just stocked our fridge with that very morning when the world was still cloaked in azure and marshmallow. We continued the hopscotchesque ramblings until we both realized that it was darker outside our powerless home than in, and we were exhausted. We’d need sleep to face the next day, so we succumbed to it.

The next morning, with no alarm to roust me, I woke up a little after five. What some may deem my more Stepford qualities would not be hindered by a lack of electricity! I filled my teapot with water and took it out to our grill. The moment it whistled, I turned off the burner and went inside and made myself a cup of tea. That would not cut it for my still-sleeping mate though. I had the ingenious idea of pouring the hot water over the grounds already prepped inside our Mr. Coffee. Newsflash: that does not work. What I did will henceforth be considered InJENious which is now the antonym of ingenious.

I turned around from my handiwork of grounds covering the machine and the counter, only to see my husband awake and fully dressed with his patented one eyebrow raise on his mug. Translation: “What in the Holy heck are you doing?” I sheepishly showed him the 4mm of coffee that had made it into the pot as an offering toward leniency in mockery. He chuckled and gathered up the camping contraption that actually does what I intended the traitorous Mr. Coffee to do. We shared small talk over coffee at our picnic table in the back yard, and then he headed off to see if he could buy ice somewhere nearby.

While he was gone I started handsawing a limb we’d failed to notice the day before dangling precariously over our driveway. Once sawn and hauled off, I started in on the lone pine casualty. Sawing a tree isn’t as easy as sawing a limb. A chainsaw would have made quick work of it, but would you trust a Stihl in the hands of a woman who had just unintentionally obliterated a coffeemaker? I thought not. So I proceeded to make littler pines out of a big one until I got to the point where I felt we could push the trunk against the edge of our woods. I went inside to wait for the Iceman to cometh.

He’d been able to sweet talk his way to not only double the two bag limit, but also to convince the manager of the store that the limit was unjust under the circumstances. She repealed the edict immediately. The ice purchasers that followed would likely be grateful if they knew of John’s persuasive plea on their behalf. Not really the stuff heroic German operas are composed of, but a kindness nonetheless. We put a bag of ice on each shelf of the fridge and shut the door. Those of you puzzling over the validity of that method need only to remember that the ancestor of the refrigerator was known as an ice box.

Now that our produce treasure was guarded by an ice dragon, we went about the rest of the day hauling said mini-pines, prepping antique kerosene lanterns for use, and making a run for batteries. We normally sleep with the TV on so that it drowns out the constant noise in John’s ears brought on by four decades of factory work. The previous night we had made do with Captain Lee narrating his book “Running Against the Tide” until my Kindle ran out of juice. Tjat night we’d be luxuriating to the sounds of classic rock once the necessary 6 “C” batteries were acquired.

After John’s ice run, he had told me how harrowing the drive through the rat maze had been. To avoid the same difficulty, I took his exact route. The only problem was, in the ensuing two hours, his route was no longer passable. It was now my turn in the maze and I don’t possess John’s calm nature. Not only was I struggling to find my way through, but I was being repeatedly accosted with visuals far more terrifying than what I had seen on a cell phone sized depiction. Much worse even than what I witnessed with my own eyes on my 600 yard voyage. Total devastation. And the energy had shifted again. Logically you’d expect to feel pain, or anguish. It wasn’t that though. It was numbness. The locked in place nothingness of your brain being unable to process what you are seeing. I’d just learned a few days before (from a Chase Hughes YouTube video) that prior to Fight or Flight comes their less frequently referred to red-headed step-sibling Freeze. That was exactly the mode my brain went into. It froze, but then prayed. Prayers of gratitude that we had been personally spared, a prayer for guidance about what we could and should do to help, and a prayer that God would help these poor people who hadn’t been as lucky as we were to find their way through.

Help came and was and is being given. It is coming in a multitude of forms. Professionals offering their services free of charge to help clear our roads. Neighbors lending tools and sweat labor to neighbors in need. Organized food drives and pantries gifting supplies of all sorts. First responders and Duke Energy employees working round the clock to bring us the often unappreciated ability to flip a switch and have light.

As I was typing this, my personal hero husband and our dearest neighbor Rick returned from their quest for a battery back-up for the sump pump, so the crawlspace doesn’t flood completely. They arrived with an even greater Holy Grail-adjacent artifact in times of no electricity: a gas powered generator adorned with four precious-as-gems outlets. The fact that they found one, let alone one in our single income price range, is nothing short of legendary. The Knights of the Chevrolet Trax will have their tale of heroism told. At least for one generation. This one. Right now in this blog. Not quite the fame of Camelot, but it beats a kick in the head.

While the saga is not over, it will take much time for our town to heal. We’ll have to learn to revel in and subsist on these stepping stone acts, that will eventually lead to a restored foundation, and finally a completion of repairs and normalcy. We have to accept that in a world of instant gratification deliveries of groceries or online purchases, that not everything works that way. But in a world of dark smoke-colored clouds spinning wildly, we can once again find the hope of azure skies and marshmallow puffiness. All it takes is charitable minds, kind souls, and hearts of service.

In fact those three things might fix more in this world than just tornado damage.

May blessings find you and warm your heart. -Jen

Grief Doesn’t Stop When People Stop Wanting to Listen

It’s been nine revolutions of the Earth since you left the mortal plane. I don’t talk about you as openly as I once did. People seem to have an understanding that I was never taught, that there is an amount of time that passes where I’m supposed to be over the loss.

Quite frankly, I think that’s bunk. I can’t foresee a time where I didn’t wish you were here to share a milestone with. I know for a fact that I’ve yet to hear “Country Roads” without thinking of you. I’ve said,”Hello,” to more hawks than any reasonable person on the planet, but I can’t imagine not noticing your signs and thanking you for them.

I think that closure is for everyone else who isn’t deeply touched by a loss. A buzzword for folks to toss out to signal they’re no longer receptive to participating in your mourning. It makes them uncomfortable to talk about. It exposes too much. Maybe it’s because it’s something they can’t fix. Possibly it’s their fear of their own mortality, or perhaps it’s as rude as total disinterest. It’s hard to say, and there isn’t one universal truth that covers the reaction anyway. Except for maybe the look in their eyes.

Most aren’t callous enough to actually permit their eyes to physically dart for the exit, but you can almost perceive them forcing their eyes not to. You raised me to be kind, so I don’t mention it when I notice, but I certainly make a mental note.

With each year that passes the note has more and more names listed. I get that I have no new stories of you to share. I’ve offered up the best anecdotes already, and our inside jokes are too hard to explain. Plus they’re sacred in a way. I wouldn’t be able to hide my annoyance if they didn’t find the humor in them. Few know better than you that I possess whatever the diametrical opposite of a poker face is.

I was thinking the other day how much better off you are in the hereafter. One of the few who’ve ever lived who was less adaptable than myself to change. And boy has world changed. Eye contact is almost unheard of. You were always so great at that. Making whomever you were speaking to feel like the two of you were in a soundproof bubble and nothing else mattered in the moment.

It would crush your spirit to think you were less important than a cat meme. Especially knowing it would appear in many feeds, multiple times on several platforms. I picture you trying to explain to Generation Screen about the value of one-on-one time and watching them gaze at you like a museum relic past any use except for ogling.

It’s those warm lectures and that grounding that I miss most though. The magnetic north of a moral compass that never left me feeling lost or excluded. I still have touchstones, but none that carry the inherent aura of authority that a Dad’s voice possesses.

While I sometimes envy your position, I know there’s work still for me to do here. I haven’t come close to amassing your catalogue of wisdom, so there’s that. And when I’m not learning myself, I’m trying to pass on what few tidbits I have mastered. Putting words out into the void with the hope that it touches at least one person when they need it most. Another piece of me moulded by your hands and example.

For now, I’ll continue to give people tiny glimpses of your impact on the anniversary of the day you moved on. Yes, it’s opportunistic of me to take advantage of the one day that even the most uncouth dare not bristle at my display of mourning. But I am the daughter of a salesman after all. It’s in my genes.

Love you forever, Daddy.

Faceless Stigma

When I first decided to share my diagnosis of depression and acute anxiety, my motives were somewhat fueled by self interest. I knew nothing about either condition aside from preconceptions I had gleaned from experiencing it through tangential relationships. Generally people don’t deep dive into a topic that doesn’t affect them personally, or affect someone they love.

Long before I was diagnosed, I can recall seeing a NAMI commercial with Glenn Close and her sister, that was attempting to bring awareness. Embarrassing to admit now, but my takeaway from the ad was, “Wow, I didn’t know that about Glenn.” My brain had merely reduced the message to a pop culture factoid to add to the already tome-worthy list of random trivia points I had squirreled away in my mind.

Now that the path was mine, I realized how utterly and completely I had missed the point of the advertisement. Glenn had been trying to put a face to mental health issues. She allowed us into her private life so we could see her sister’s humanity paired with the face of a woman who was already known to many of us. The message that had been shapeless and without form to the “me” without mental health issues was now vividly apparent to the woman I was now who was experiencing them.

The selfish motives behind my sharing were rooted in wanting to reach a level of acceptance in what I then perceived as my brokenness, and perhaps connect with others who shared my condition that could be guideposts on my new journey. The selfishness fell away rather quickly as I began to receive messages from sufferers who appreciated my openness, because for varying reasons they were on islands of silence and suffering.

My mission then was clear. I would be the voice for those who weren’t comfortable speaking. The face to remove the stigma. The vanity of that repulses me now, but at the time it was the empowerment and validation I needed to carry me through the early days.

It also allowed me to reach a level of authenticity that I craved in all of my relationships, be they online or in person. It became easy and normal for me to openly discuss my struggles, my triumphs, my spirals, and my recoveries. The small community I have built has been immensely supportive and loving. So much so that from the outside one might think that this would be the moment to expect to read, ” And she lived happily ever after. The End.” But real life isn’t a fairy tale and mental health issues don’t have a neat little bow wrapped around them.

While my own community has been supportive of me, the individual with the face they knew, I was shocked and disturbed to see how the faceless were still being regarded. Off-handed comments directed at others stating things like, “You dodged a bullet with that one. She’s clearly mentally ill,” made me realize that attaching my face to depression and anxiety benefited no one but me. I was granted a grace that others still are not.

Was I that bullet to those who didn’t know my face? Some unexploded ordinance that people were waiting to be remotely triggered into an emotional explosion? In truth, what others think of me no longer matters. I had the benefit of being diagnosed later in life with a lifetime of not only being capable, but also with a fair amount of achievements to bolster my self worth.

But what would the knowledge of those whispered mumblings do to those more fragile souls who still needed validation? Would it be the last shove they needed to reach despair? Would months of tentative steps toward mental health result in a tumble to the bottom of the staircase? Would they get up? Could they get up?

In this “there but for the Grace of God go I,” revelation, I knew that the world was much further from acceptance of mental health issues than I had given it credit for. The dilemma then becomes, how do you put a visage on a faceless stigma when not everyone’s lives are personally touched by mental health issues?

The best answer I can come up with right now is to pretend. Whenever you choose to speak in a pejorative manner about an illness, a handicap, even a quirk…put a face of someone you love on the receiving end. Not just anyone you care about, but someone whose happiness is your happiness, whose pain is your pain. Then picture that person’s expression going from the light and loving way you revel in seeing transform into shock and then a painful wince, followed by tears of despair. Maybe then you will comprehend the power of your words, and understand their impact.

Be well and be kind. -Jen

For the Love of Humanity

It is said that one’s true character is revealed in crisis, not in calm. Over the last two years, the world has been in crisis, and the revelations have shocked me to my core.

It doesn’t matter which side of the vaccine debate you are on, as both sides have become complicit in the erosion of our humanity. Neither of the extreme sides of the stance can claim the mantle of compassion any longer.

Those of you whose senses aren’t bombarded by the feelings and energies of other people might not even recognize that it’s happening. Others still may decide it’s a righteous stance and dismiss my thoughts as misguided or outright wrong. Either way, you’re entitled to your thoughts. I lay no claim of being a mountain-top sage with wisdom to cover and cure the world. I cannot stay quiet any longer though, as the hamster wheel of the same thoughts over and over need to be given voice to be exorcised.

Compassion is defined as the sympathy for the suffering or struggles of others. “Others” becomes the key in this, because it doesn’t only mean anyone who isn’t you, it also means anyone alien to you that you don’t group in with yourself. Feeling sympathy for someone who thinks exactly like you isn’t practicing compassion. It’s an extension of your own ego exercising the power of self-validation. Even the most predatory will often protect their own. There’s no righteousness in that.

Yet righteousness is exactly what many seem to be proclaiming, along with their distorted view of compassion as they revel in the sickness and monstrously even in the death of those in opposition to their own thoughts. Social media has become the Colosseum as its users cheer on either the Covid or Vaccine Lions to claim another victim. All in the hope of buttressing their own argument.

Is a human life worth so little now that we seek joy in the loss of it for political positioning? Would it not pain you to no end if one of your loved ones was chosen in this arbitrary Hunger Games scenario? How can your heart not ache over every loss of potential? Or cry out in pain for the families devastated in the wake of grief and loss? Have you flown so far afield from your humanity that you will dance and revel at someone’s anguish just to be able to say you were right?

So please, for the love of humanity as a WHOLE, consider your words and your actions in this time of crisis. Hold fast to your beliefs and state your case but base it in true compassion for all. Pray or at the very least send well wishes for all who are suffering, lest there be nothing truly righteous and loving left to live for.

The Grace To Be Yourself

Judging by the virtual cobwebs, you can rest assured that being myself includes a lack of consistency in many areas, including keeping current on this blog. This year has had my energy ebbing and flowing like the tides, sadly without the timing and regularity. Maybe I need my own moon to control it, but presently it’s solely under the influence of inspiration.

In the past I would have kernels of ideas that would pop into my brain, and I had the time and wherewithal to stay on topic, add oil, and shimmy the pan back and forth until I had everything looking all white and fluffy and ready to add a buttery topping of words to share the idea.

Now when the golden seed breaks its husk, I’ll occasionally give it enough attention to suss it out in a Twitter post or a meme if I want to make it look pretty. Mostly, however, the remaining kernels are relegated to the skillet where they burn to a crisp without the grease to tease them into awakening, and they end up in my mind’s trash can, never to be heard from again.

A momentary thought lingered today though and having the proper amount of free time and energy made me want to sit down and give it the attention it deserved and cook it to completion, so here we go.

In a conversation earlier today I realized someone I knew was going through a life struggle that I had been totally oblivious to. Whether it was my poor self-esteem or a dash of narcissism that made me turn this realization into an indictment against myself is better left to the psychologists of the world to decide, but that’s exactly what I did.

I instantly thought of all of the examples of how I am a bad friend. I suck because I rarely, if ever, check in just to see how things are going. I don’t send cards or even texts unless it’s a response to one I’ve received. I flit in and out of people’s lives when it works for me or when they step into my line of sight and say, “Hey, remember me? We’re friends. Or at least I thought we were.” (In truth, they are rarely that blunt, even though I’m often blunt with them. They tend to be much kinder than I feel I deserve.)

As I started down this path of self-flagellation, I was met with a rare signpost of grace. It happens that just last night I was treated to a reading with an astrologist. It was my first professional reading and actually only came about because I won it as a door prize at a recent expo I attended. Apparently God, or the universe, or the spirit of my best friend felt I needed to dig a little deeper into who I am and why I do what I do. I’m betting on God or Fairy, because both of them are keenly aware of what a cheapskate I am and that it would have to be free for me to pursue it.

Anyway, during the reading I was freaked out more than once about how dead on accurate the assessment of my personality was. While I’m an Aries, I’m a highly atypical one and many of the characteristics attributed to them never felt like they applied to me. As we went through my chart it became abundantly clear why. Apparently for many of the traits I’m supposed to have, I have some ruling planet in a random house opposing those yearnings, basically creating a constant struggle within myself about dang near everything.

When the astrologist told me I had a tendency to overthink things, I was unable to suppress the, “Duh,” that bubbled up and out. It’s clearly audible on the recording she sent of the session, and I laughed when I listened because it was bubbling up again upon playback. That impulse to analyze everything half to death when tied to my perfectionist habits is part of why I’m so easily inclined to beating myself up. I want the whole world to be better and happy, but I can only really change my own actions. So I pick them apart, file the rough edges, and go with the improved version until it falls short somewhere. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over…and over…and over.

What made this time different was a gift I was given during my reading. The woman chose words that instantly resonated with me, and one of them was “talents.” I’ve always attached that word to a tangible skill or art form. The way she used it, though, was in reference to the strength of a personality trait, and we all have them, but they aren’t all the same.

I have a gift, or so I’ve been told, for compassion, along with the ability to listen to the details of situation and pick out the primary needs so I can diagnose the steps to improve the situation or at least make it feel conquerable. It’s aligned with the early steps of healing a pain someone is going through. I can’t always fix it, but I can often bring peace and encouragement. That’s my talent. That’s a gift I have that I can share with everyone; from the people I love all of the way on out to total strangers.

Knowing what your strengths are, and conversely what your weaknesses are, frees you up to use your strengths to their fullest and best purposes. So while it may be a fact that I’m not the greatest at checking in or being constantly at hand, I now know that I am present for the parts I am good at.

Giving myself the grace to be me is going to open up whole new avenues both mentally and spiritually. I no longer need to be everything to everyone. Just being who I was made to be in this world is enough. And what that means for you who are reading, is that you are enough also.

So go out and focus on what you’re good at. Expound upon your best traits and offer those to the world around you. Leave the things you don’t excel at in the hands of those who master them. I think if we all do that, we can work together to build the world of our dreams.

Much love to you all. Thanks for reading.

Fairy’s Magical Light

When Lou first asked me to speak, my immediate reaction was fear. I’m better and less stuttery and awkward in written form. But I quickly recovered and told him that if I was ever going to push through fear to honor someone, it would be her.

The next challenge I faced was deciding what I could possibly tell a room full of people, many of whom had known her longer and had more face to face interactions with her than I was blessed with. Then it hit me that no two relationships are the same and that the best way to celebrate her was to give you all a glimpse of the Fairy you might not have known.

Before I begin, I want to let you know that I’ll be referring to our beautiful loved one as Fairy. I rarely ever called her by her given name. You can check my phone and messenger contacts for proof of that fact. It was how she introduced herself to me, and it suited the magical nature she embodied.

She and I met almost two decades ago in the early days of the internet. She popped up in my private messages and considering she and I were both brought up on Ohio’s unwritten motto of “stranger danger” it’s a feat in and of itself that she reached out and I answered.

If you stop and think about how many people cross your path each day, be it in real life at a grocery store or a gas station, or if it’s via online life as you scroll through your preferred social media platform…the odds of finding your split apart soulmate seem impossible. I, however, hit the lottery.

She and I both had real life sisters that we love, but we were chosen sisters of the heart. As different as night and day in some respects. I’d rather be waterboarded than watch the Hallmark Channel or The Young & The Restless, and she felt the same about my penchant for horror movies and true crime. But in the most important ways we were eerily similar. Like our spirit decided to rend itself in two and live two completely different lives to maximize the adventures and experiences the world had to offer us.

What radiated most from her though, that drew everyone in, was her light. What you might not know about her was that she was the most social hermit on the planet. She literally had thousands of friends across the world. I enlisted some of them to give me a word that epitomized her that I could share with you today. The most prevalent ones were kindness, compassion, perspective, and humor. All of which she had in droves. The one that made me laugh the hardest was snacks, and anyone who knew her even a little bit knows how fitting that was.

All of those responses and seeing all of your faces here today have given me one of the greatest lessons I’ve received from her (and considering how much she taught me, that’s saying a lot.) It’s showed me that everyone of us who were blessed enough to bask in her light, absorbed some of it and it’s ours forever. It’s our keepsake to cherish and carry with us as we travel along until our souls unite with her again. My prayer today is that it warms you when you are cold, that it lights your path when you feel lost, and that it casts out darkness and puts things into perspective in a way that only our magical Fairy could. 

In Remembrance of My Fairy

Eighteen years ago chance and a penchant for reality television brought an amazing woman into my life. It was back when message boards were all of the rage and being a shy introvert I didn’t even use my real name. Back then I was OpenHeart. I mostly lurked. Being raised on “stranger danger” I had no idea who these people were in real life, and God forbid I befriend an axe murderer.

I finally worked up the nerve to make a post or two and got my first reply from someone named Fairydusted. She was quick to joke and shared a lot of the same perspectives I did. Silly chitchat ensued and then it came…an Instant Message. I laugh now looking back on the sheer panic that overcame me when I saw it. I had never spoken privately to a stranger on the internet. My imagination went into overdrive and I had seemingly infinite scenarios running rampant about who she might actually be. None of them were good and all of them were wrong.

It turned out that she was a housewife just like me, but living in Las Vegas. We laughed over the fact that I was her first private message as well, and she had hesitated in writing for the same reasons I hesitated to even open the message. A couple of total spazzes had just made their first connection and there were more to come.

She had been born and raised in Ohio near Twinsburg, and when I told her of my irrational fear of twins (they have a yearly convention in Twinsburg) she decided that I was exactly her kind of weird. There are a select few moments in life that will alter you forever, and this was one of mine.

Not long after, we both worked up the nerve to exchange phone numbers. It wasn’t long before I had to change my phone plan to include unlimited long distance, because we could not stop talking. Everything was on the table for discussion. Things I’d never shared with a soul were now locked away in her vault and her secrets were kept in mine. The immediate trust was unfathomable to me. It wasn’t remotely who I was or even who I am now, but she engendered it immediately.

God had given both of us sisters through birth, but we chose each other as sisters.  From the outside we were one of the oddest duos to ever join forces. A stodgy naive Protestant who didn’t touch drugs and a reefer-toking half lapsed Catholic half Wiccan. She swore like a sailor and I would type “LMHO” with the “h” standing for hiney.

She shattered my pre-conceived notions and stereotypes with her purity and light. She expanded my mind and made me question things I thought were immutable facts. She was open to anything and everything that fell within her moral code, and that code was one of our greatest similarities.

We were “live and let live” types, or more aptly put, she was one and she transformed me into one. I would not be remotely who I am today had she not taught me to eschew judgment and proceed through life with love and light.  That was her motto and creed, and often the ending to her answering machine message.

Over the years our friendship grew and she was finally able to come for a visit. My girls loved her from jump and thought she was the coolest thing since Stevie Nicks. Despite her efforts, she was unable to control her language in front of them. With each slip up she’d say, “Girls, don’t grow up to talk like your effing Aunt Fairy.” Spoiler alert: they both did, and it makes me laugh every time. I can’t blame them. She was always cool as heck.

I’ll never divulge her secrets, but I will say this…she was a survivor of the highest order. The things she endured in her life would break the hardest of hearts. Never once in our entire friendship did she ever see herself as or take on the role of victim. She always had a story at the ready about someone who’d been through worse.

She had her struggles and things that plagued her and we would often have “brutal truth” talks where I wouldn’t allow her to hide from her role in them. Most friends in my life would drop me in a heartbeat for only being willing to give an honest opinion, but she treasured it and thanked me for it. It never got in the way of our love for each other.

Life did sometimes get in the way and we could go weeks or even a month without speaking. When we did reconnect, we’d pick up right where we left off. Each of us refusing to guilt the other about the break, because we both knew that’s how life worked. Plus, we were just thrilled to be reunited again.

When she moved back to Ohio we had all kinds of plans to get to meet up more regularly. Then life threw us other curveballs and John went through multiple surgeries and her Dad and step mom moved in with her. The timing never gelled. A mere three hours away from each other and we could never make it happen.

We used to joke about moving in together, because we were both a fair bit younger than our husbands. A two-person Golden Girls setup that would have us laughing and raising a ruckus well into our 80s. Tonight as I was shaving John’s head and still fighting tears back, “Thank You For Being A Friend” came on the radio. I have never heard that song on my favorite station ever.

I looked up at the radio with tears falling down and could only utter, ” No, Fairy, thank YOU.” I will miss her and love her forever and I know those of you whose lives she touched will too. My heart and soul reach out to you now as we grieve the loss, but we will honor her best if we continue filling the world with love and light.

Until we meet again, my beautiful Fairy. I love you.

PR Spin Has Lost Its Power

Whether we’re talking about picturesque Dutch windmills or modern wind turbines, spin has always been a key to power. Hollywood has been rife with scandal since its inception in the early 1900s and where there is scandal, there is a need to manage it. Enter: the spin of public relations.

Information has always been a powerful resource. Back in the Golden Era of Hollywood, J. Edgar Hoover recognized this and had the FBI descend upon Hollywood to gather information on figures who had begun to capitalize on their newly developed star power. Actors like Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn could suddenly be curtailed and controlled by their own lapses in judgment in their personal lives. Anyone who stepped too far out of line could be immediately forced to step back with threats of releasing unseemly tidbits that would cause their fickle fandom to turn on them.

It wasn’t only the government who saw the value in this information. Studio heads saw its worth as well and capitalized on it by way of morality clauses in contracts and keeping dossiers on their less well-behaved stars and starlets. If the folder got too thick or an actor stepped too far out of line, the reins of release were tightened. When that wasn’t a strong enough motivator, the coup de grâce of a blackball would end their once-storied existences.

In addition to the FBI and studio heads, another force emerged…the gossip columnist. Arguably the biggest rivalry for that sovereign crown was between Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Hedda had a readership of close to 35 million, so in my humble opinion she was the wearer of the regal diadem, but Louella scooped her on more than one occasion. Studios implemented “fixers” to step in when things went really far afield. Think “Mr. Wolf” from Pulp Fiction played exquisitely by Harvey Keitel. These cleaners could make a scandal disappear before a scent of impropriety could escape and waft towards the noses of the gossip bloodhounds.

This system worked for close to a century, with only whispers of truth escaping, that were written off as unsubstantiated rumor or Old Hollywood folklore. The powers-that-be circled their wagons to protect their assets, not unlike the pioneers of yore. Having your livelihood held ransom was often the most effective gag employed.

Fast forward to present day and we see that not much has changed in the way public relations are handled. For years Harvey Weinstein got away with utterly deplorable and criminal behavior while stars whose movies we willingly forked over our hard-earned money to see sidled up next to him with megawatt smiles affixed to their faces. We may never know how much they knew, but the rumblings were there, like a precursor to an earthquake. Eventually the Big One hit and the earth swallowed him whole. His shiny-smiled supporters seem to walk away unscathed though, and many of us scratched our heads wondering how that could be?

The answer is in their silence. Neither publicly defending nor decrying, powerhouses like Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, and Oprah Winfrey skated through the cavernous cracked streets in the wake of the quake with the skill of Kristi Yamaguchi. Sure, there were detractors on social media, but they barely made a ripple in the vast ocean of public opinion. Harvey alone took the fall and his enablers went on.

Part of the key to the success of public relations is to control the narrative. In the old days of Hollywood fewer people had access to damaging information in the first place. With so few people to contend with, it was easy to discover the currency that would buy their silence. From offering them an exclusive all of the way to suing them for breach of a non-disclosure agreement, their control methods were vast and effective.

However, we are now in the age of the citizen journalist. The relative anonymity of the internet has allowed whistleblowers to leave bread crumbs while staying out of the direct line of fire. This emergence has dented the once smooth coat of armor surrounding Hollywood, and it has weakened its impervious nature. Everyday people can now hoist the banner of causes that matter to them and rally the spirit of like-minded souls.

The most recent examples of this push back against the wall of silence surrounding Hollywood is on display in the bullying perpetrated by Chrissy Teigen and the embezzlement claims surrounding Tom and Erika Girardi. “Regular” folks are up in arms over the fact that justice hasn’t appeared to find its way to these less-than-humble doorsteps. The less-than-sincere apologies and claims of being an unwitting victim are falling on unhearing ears.

Try as they might, the spin doctors are unable to keep their feet on their pedals against the strong winds of discontent. The public is angry, and rightfully so. Any one of us would have faced major repercussions in our lives by now. These teflon figures, however, are still living lives of opulence and decadence and flaunting it for all to see. The inequity of that isn’t lost on the “little people.” In fact, they are rising in harmony against it.

Whether these particular influencers will feel a financial dent in their lifestyles is yet to be determined. Their high powered network of friends provide them a safe haven that few can afford. I do know this…the spin will keep working if we stand silent against the Goliath. The crisis teams count on the rapid pace of the 24 hour news cycle to push their scandal out of the spotlight as we collectively move forward to the next one. But what might happen if we all decide that Hollywood’s days of double standards are done? If we didn’t let the wall of silence barricade and protect the hypocrisy of Hollywood? If one David could defeat Goliath, imagine what hundreds of them could do. Keep speaking. Let them know PR spin has lost its power over the public.

Rerouting Bad Habits

One would think that during Mental Health Awareness month, I would be inundating subscribers with thoughts, advice, and tidbits from my own journey. Perhaps if I were a medical professional looking at it from the outside of the experience, I’d have done that. As someone dealing with these issues though, I decided to take this month to actually focus on my own mental health and well-being and it has been eye opening to say the least.

Many days this month I’ve functioned quite capably and I’m putting that in the first position, because it deserves to be acknowledged and (dare I say) praised. I’m the type of person who tends to focus on my flaws first and am always awaiting with bated breath the moments where I can beat myself up for not attaining some ever-changing goal that I’ve either set for myself or that I feel that society at large expects us to attain. I’m slowly learning that this habit creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that keeps me from my true goal of being well and content. So, kudos, self for being better more days than not. Here’s your gold star.

I’ve only had one spiraling event so far. Actually “event” isn’t the right word, because there was nothing tangible going on in my life to tie it to. It was more like a weighted cloud was resting just above me, neither touching me nor completely impeding my movement, but making everything more difficult. Kind of like trying to run on a humid day. You can do it, but breathing is more labored and every motion feels like it’s traveling through some thickened soup.

In the past on days like that, I would always keep it moving, and for some people that might be the best course of action. This process is different for everyone, and there’s no “one size fits all” to be found. In my case, however, pushing through generally resulted in me tapping myself to depletion and being useless for even more days than I would have had I just rested the first day I was struggling. Again, this is all trial and error. I’m trying to view it as a living experiment and taking mental notes on positive and negative results has helped me to learn more with each attempt about what works and what doesn’t.

Training myself out of bad habits that no longer work for me has likely been the most difficult part of this process. I’m a big fan of habits and rituals. There’s a comfort in reflexively knowing what the next step is without having to constantly run scenarios through my brain of potential outcomes. A lifetime of overthinking is how I got here after all, so any peace I can find in not thinking is welcome. Unfortunately, my brain didn’t come wired with an automatic rerouting kit when a road is closed or under construction.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when everyone didn’t have a portable GPS system in their smart phones. And while youngsters may readily imagine stumbling across a diplodocus or a brachiosaur along that pre-digital era path; in truth, it wasn’t that long ago.

Those years, which I promise were well after the Mesozoic period, were in a short lived time known as the Brick Phone era. Phones back then only made :gasp: PHONE CALLS. To successfully complete a journey from one destination to another required either previous knowledge of the route or some printed form of a map like a road atlas. In those days I happened to be working in a travel agency at AAA.

Aside from their unofficial role as the patron saints of roadside breakdowns, AAA was also known for their TripTiks. It was a narrow binder of route maps plotting your course from your home to your driving destination of choice. Even though it wasn’t my job, I often helped out my friends in that department when a holiday travel rush was upon us.

Members got them for free and likely had no idea how tedious a process it was just to map out their trip. There were pages and pages of routes that covered the entire country and you had to hand-pick the ones that applied to them while constantly cross-referencing faxed updates of construction and detours that their route contained. Hearing the squeal of the fax machine as you glanced at the stack of completed spiral bound pages filled you with the dread of having to tear them apart and insert the changes.

Before you think my cheese has slipped off my cracker completely, I’m sharing that as a way to explain what rewriting my own bad habits has been like. I have a course plotted that’s worked for years and then my depression or anxiety squeals to let me know I have to re-route. Just the alarm fills me with dread, but I either have to do the work to plot a new course, or I risk getting stranded along the way, not knowing where to go. And as anyone who has experienced anxiety knows, that’s the last place you want to be.

The detours and roadblocks on depression’s journey don’t always come before you’re underway though. There’s often an internal battle in my own head over who takes priority…depression or anxiety. For me, it’s whichever one is squealing the loudest in a given moment. I’ve been surprised to learn that helping one often calms down the other. Maybe it’s because they are often tied together, like a pair of fraternal twins. Or possibly it’s just bleeding steam off the pressure cooker that silences the high pitched whistle. Either way, the outcome is calmer and quieter.

As I wrap up this month and this entry, my main focus is to continue my efforts to reroute habits that have become unhealthy. Whether it’s evaluating relationships that do more harm than good, giving up crutches that keep me from moving under my own power, or changing the way I think about myself; they are impediments to my goals. Those pages need to be taken out and replaced with a smoother path. At least until my brain gets more advanced and does the re-routing for me.

I hope your month had more good days than bad and that you plug along toward whatever gives you the most contentment. Wishing blessings upon you until next time.

XOXO, Jen

Monsters

Not all monsters look scary, all grotesque and hairy

Or they couldn’t do monstrous things.

Some look rather average, not remotely that savage

And some come like angels with wings.


They’ll promise you pleasure or untold of treasure

You’d never believed you’d behold

Others fulfill your dreams, with delight you will scream

Until their true nature unfolds.

Then the mask starts to slip, once you’re tight in their grip

And the realization sets in

You fell for the trapping, in shiny gift wrapping

That the monster had hidden within

The end of the story doesn’t have to be gory

Because of the power of choice

Start first by not believing their attempts at deceiving

And then regain your own voice.

Then slowly but surely what once seemed so burly

Begins to shrink in its power

To brainwash your mind and make you seem blind

To the fact that you are a flower.

Be sure when you’re leaving not to spend much time grieving

O’er the lies you bought that they sell

For it’s certain in fact, that they’ve worked on this act

So even the smartest folks fell for their spell.