Time After Time

time-scale

“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” – Henry Van Dyke

Things happen in their own time. And Time really doesn’t care.

We have choices. We choose what we cook for breakfast. We choose what color socks we put on. We choose how we treat others. We choose how hard we work. We choose whether we seek the beauty in life or not.

However, some things are out of our hands. And that is really fucking hard to deal with. I like to plan, make lists, get shit done. I don’t think I’m a control freak (as I can be quite zen and just let things be as they may). But, that’s when things are going my way. When things are all out of whack and I’m not getting what I desire, it really pisses me off. Then the fiery side of me comes out and I yell and kick and scream at Time:

“How can you be so cold? Can’t you hear me?!”

Time never responds. Time is too busy moving on. She’s got too much shit to do.

I’ve learned that we cannot plan our lives out. I have a very clear idea of where I’d like my life to be, but the universe, God, the angels, fate, Buddha and/or some naughty garden gnomes have different ideas. I don’t just sit by and dream, either. I work hard for what I want in every aspect of my life. My love life, friendships, career, finances, etc., will line up as they should. I just don’t know when.

I guess I’ll just hang out and enjoy the ride until then.

Serendipity and Happenstance

Few things are worse than having a sick child. You are left with an utterly helpless feeling because your child thinks you can kiss awaycomfort boo-boos, dry tears and make him feel better just by holding him. When I first had my own child I finally understood the plain truth in saying to your child (as my parents had said to me so many times), “I would take this pain from you, I would bear this illness if I could.”

My son has caught a virus that gives him fevers at night and a dry cough, which was probably picked up at day camp. He is a slightly muted form of his effervescent self during the day, although his loss of appetite and declarations of, “I’m tired!” after dinner shows that he’s just not himself (I mean, what 6-year-old ever admits to being tired?).

My family has implored me to stay away from my little guy so that I do not get whatever he has. Obviously, surgeons want you to come in as healthy and strong as possible before they perform the taxing procedure to your body. I’ve done my best by only kissing him on the forehead and washing my hands until they are raw.

For the last 6 weeks I have felt useless, guilty and paralyzed as a mother. I am supposed to be his caregiver. I am supposed to be up and playing with him during these humid days, matching his laughter and sweat and imaginative adventures. Instead, I’ve been mostly stuck in my bed, feeling drained and outside of my body, which has failed and confounded me.

Last night I heard my son’s faint little cries which quickly grew louder. He must have been jolted awake by a coughing fit and wanted his mommy. I have about 15 nicknames for him, so he has come up with one for me, because he says, it sounds like “Mommy.” He has reassured me it has nothing to do with bovines.

“Moo, Moo,” he cried out. I flew out of my bed, opened his door and saw him sitting up in his bed.

“Moo, I want to sleep next to me.”

“Honey, you know I can’t get sick. Let me find your chicken.” (A disheveled mess of fur, beak and a single eye; the aptly named Chicken is his beloved companion and source of comfort.)

“Please, Moo,” he begged.

No good mother would ever deny her child comfort in times of sickness. I laid right next to him, and he promptly grabbed my free arm, wrapping it around himself. He coughed a bit more, but then fell into a peaceful, deep sleep. After sleeping next to him for several hours, I woke up as I usually do at an ungodly hour. I surveyed the scene: the boy was still sleeping serenely and the humidifier and vaporizer were still running at full-bore. I kissed him on the cheek and quietly retreated to my own bed, leaving his and my doors ajar in case of further calls for comfort.

The last thing I want is for my child to be sick, especially since I go into the hospital tomorrow for at least a week. I’ll miss him with an undeniable fervor, worrying and wondering how he’s getting along. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but every parent has these irrational fears when away from their child.

I’m realizing now what a paradox last night was. My son was ill and I felt helpless because I was unable to cure him. However, for the first time in over a month, I was able to be his mother; not the ailing version he’s seen, but the one he knows that helps make everything better. I felt needed and was able to fulfill my role; something I haven’t been able to do, which has left a constant ache in my heart.

Last night was a small moment, just a simple gesture that any parent would do. But to me it felt important and moving and serendipitous. The last memory my son will have of me before I go into the hospital and begin my long journey of healing is simply of me being his mother. This little circumstance gives me the strength to go through hell and come back renewed.

Pondering Death’s Visit and Living Your Truth

I’m having surgery in 4 days. Last week I met with the 2 surgeons performing the surgery. They are kind and personable and explain 0handsmedical terms in a way that a non-medical person can understand. They are respected in their field and are very good at what they do.

The main surgeon who is doing the more tricky parts told me he’d be treating me as if I were his wife or sister on the operating table. He’s talked to numerous other doctors to get their input. He’s studied my case, my files, my test results. He is confident and meticulous and if ever during the surgery there is a question, there are many, many colleagues he can call on for advice or assistance.

“But,” he told me, “I am not God.”

That was refreshing to hear because some surgeons do believe they are God. This I knew was the lead-up to him telling me what could go wrong during surgery. He said he had to tell me these things; not to make me worry or make me think these things would definitely happen, but to make me aware, to be honest, and to see that medicine is not a perfect science and things can go wrong.

“Of course,” I said.

He decided to start off with the worst-case scenario. I suppose it is best to get that out of the way. I mean, once that one is out of the way, all the other things that could go wrong seem quite insignificant.

“I have to tell you this. There is a an infinitesimal chance that death could occur. I mean, a 1% chance.”

I noted how he said it, I suppose to soften the blow. He didn’t say, “You could die,” which is what he meant, but he said it in a more passive way, like Death could possibly float into the room, say hello and go along his way.

Hearing it was unsettling. However, I understand it’s not very likely that it will happen. And the truth is, we could die at anytime for a multitude of reasons. It’s just a bit more worrisome knowing you are putting yourself in that position by choice (although a choice that is necessary for my quality of life).

When one has a child the prospect of death becomes a million times more sobering. In our younger, carefree days, we feel immortal, we don’t worry about death. Even I, who grew up with a chronic illness, did not feel threatened by being mortal. Now, however, the warning that my doctor gave me has been stuck in the front of my brain.

I talked to friends and asked them if I was insane or overreacting for wanting to write my son a letter,  a sort of goodbye, telling him how much I love him and always will and what I wish for him. Everyone said that I should certainly do that, if only to purge those thoughts and to take that worry from my mind.

I’ve started the letter about ten different times and have already written the words in my head for what feels like a thousand times. Each time I do; however, my eyes start stinging from the tears. Of course I don’t want to leave my son behind. And I won’t be! I think about those poor mothers or fathers who have terminal cancer and know they are dying and are going to leave their children behind. That is heartbreaking. I am grateful that my condition is nowhere near as serious as that.

Illness changes a person. You have a different outlook on life. You figure out your truth and try your best to live by it. I realize the importance of living with passion and getting my feelings all out there. I can see the frailty of life. So, while I’m confident this letter will not be read by my son next week, it will surely be a great reminder of what I want to share with him, teach him and how to guide him. My hope is to raise him and to make him feel loved and cherished and teach him what I think is important and let him flourish in whatever ventures he chooses. It also reminds me what I need to share with all those I care about.

I tell my son every day that I love him. I hug him and kiss him. He’s little and loves it now, and I will continue to do that until the day I die. I won’t embarrass him in front of his friends, but I will not stop showing him how much he means to me, no matter how annoying it gets to him. Every child goes through those years of rebellion and breaking away from his parents. But once he grows out of that stage, my hope is that he’ll remember how I never gave up on him, no matter how shitty he could sometimes act (because all teenagers are a bit crazy…or a lot crazy). I’ll still love him, no matter what.

For me, the greatest trait a person can possess is kindness. I’m not talking about wimpiness or a walk-all-over-me attitude,  but I wish for my son to possess a light that shines in his heart which pushes him to help his fellow human beings (friend or not) and would never allow him to hurt someone else on purpose. I already see this in him, but I will continue to teach him through my own actions and through discussions about his life experiences on how important it is to keep that light burning. If we are to leave a mark on this world, shouldn’t it be to make it a better place?  I want my son to be known as a good guy – sensitive, generous and sincere. We’ve all been knocked down, whether by illness or abuse or bullying or poverty or  prejudice. Everyone carries around their own share of pain. Isn’t it time to be kinder, be the bigger person and not perpetuate the hate?

It’s not aways easy to be kind, and that is why it takes courage. My wish is for my son to have courage and strength. He should stand up for what he believes in. He should stand up for anyone who is getting bullied or harassed. And most important of all, he should have the courage to show his feelings. I understand the courage that it takes, because the fear of rejection is strong. Also, you don’t know how the other person will react; most crushing can be when someone doesn’t react at all. However, in this one life we are given, we should not squander our feelings, but instead share them boldly. Secrets can diminish us, but those that speak their truth can stand proud in knowing they are not holding anything back.

I want him to discover his passions and live them. He’s 6 now, so he wants to be everything from an opera singer, spy, magician, superhero, video game designer and an architect. As he grows, he will discover what really excites him and makes his pulse race. I would never dictate what that should be. I will certainly be unwavering in my desire for him to have a passion for learning, because that’s where it all begins. From there, he can see where his talents lie and what he wants to do with them. I hope he sees my tenacity and learns the importance of never giving up. With dreams, goals and hard work, one can accomplish whatever they desire.

I wish for him to have true-blue friends. Of course this means that he needs to be a true-blue friend. He doesn’t need a ton of them, but a special few that share his interests and values, friends that can make him laugh and friends that encourage him to think about things differently. He should be loyal and forgiving and love them like family. True friends help you when you fall, and in our lives there are plenty of times when we need a little help.

My little boy will grow up and fall in love. He will probably have his heart broken numerous times, but when the time is right I hope he finds “the one” partner for him. Whomever he dates and ultimately chooses, he needs to show that kindness in his heart, communicate well, love with everything he’s got, be a gentleman and cherish and protect the heart he holds. He needs to know when to say “I’m sorry,” and love passionately. He needs to have patience and gratitude and never give up on that person. And hopefully, by showing him all the love I have for him and what a great person he is, he will know what he deserves – someone that will cherish him as much as I do.

I don’t think it’s bad to ponder the frailty of life and let it guide you. Although your ideals may be much different than mine, I believe it’s important to know what those ideals are. What message are you giving to the world? Are you living and loving with passion? Are you sharing your truth, your soul? I don’t want Death to visit me for a long, long time. But when he does, I don’t want there to be anything in me left unspoken.

Metropolis

I’ve been singing the chorus to this song in my head for the last month or so. While I’m not sure if The Church are singing about Superman’s Metropolis, after listening to the whole song today I was reminded as to what a wonderful tune it is.

Speaking of Superman, I’m looking forward to seeing The Man of Steel almost as much as my little boy. If you were to ask my son who his favorite superhero is he will answer with a resolute, “Superman!” If you were then to ask him why that is he’ll say, “Because he’s got the best powers and helps people by defeating the bad guys.”

I think the obsession boys have with superheroes is innate, and at one point in their lives all boys want to be the hero. I suspect very few boys have never tied a towel around his neck and pretended he was saving the world. As far as superheroes go, Superman is an icon and the ultimate defender of those in peril.

I think he’s a pretty good fictional hero to look up to. And I hope my son will want to remain a hero in his own way forever.

Come Swim with Me in a Sea of Narcotics

Hi. I hope I got your attention. I wanted to remind you how the strength of your title can grab your reader.

I initially thought of this subject when reading some “Freshly Pressed” blogs yesterday. I came across this post:

“I Sold My Fat Jeans on eBay and Now I Want Them Back”

I read that title and immediately started cackling (which made my dog look at me weird, jump off my bed, army crawl under the bed and hide there for two hours). Anyway, what a brilliant title! It certainly caught my attention. I read the post which is a very well-written piece about a woman’s struggle with weight-loss. She hooked me and I was glad she did because it was a very relatable article. And, seriously, that title is amazing.

Let’s go back to the title of my post. It kind of sounds like it could be the title of a song, or perhaps an invitation. I apologize profusely if you believed that I actually have a sea of narcotics and was asking you, kind reader, to join me for a swim. Sadly, I do not own said sea. However, I will tell you how I came up with that title. Next week I’m having pretty major surgery to repair some strictures in my digestive tract caused by my Crohn’s Disease. I’m not jumping for joy to have this done, but I can’t wait to feel “normal” again. While meeting with my surgeon today he told me I looked worried. I told him that I was worried about the pain after surgery.

(There have been studies done on how redheads generally need more anesthesia and pain meds than non-gingers. Something to do with our DNA. No, I don’t get it either.)

I don’t know if my hair is the culprit, but I am not a wuss and have fought through awful pain at various times during most of my adolescent and adult life. But, in the past, specifically 20 years ago when I  had my last surgery, my doctor denied me stronger doses of morphine and other pain medicine. He actually said, “This should be a high enough dosage for someone your size.” It’s very frustrating when you feel like no one is listening to you or believes the level of pain you’re in and won’t help you out to dull that pain. I wasn’t asking to take a wheelbarrow full of morph home with me, I just wanted to feel semi-comfortable after being cut open. I told my surgeon that I was afraid that would be the case nest week.

He looked at me and said, “Stop. I don’t want you to worry about this anymore. Pain therapy has come a long way in 20 years. And we will have you swimming in a sea of narcotics.”

Of course this had me laughing (luckily my dog wasn’t there to give me strange looks) and I was relieved that I wouldn’t be denied. I mean, during my day-to-day life I am not drugged up, but I feel that after enduring a major surgery I should be allowed to dive in, float, swim and sink to the bottom of that sea of narcotics. It may end up being the best week of my life!

It’s also funny what inspires us to write, isn’t it? I suppose I could have used that title to write a poem about swimming in narcotics; perhaps I will be better equipped to do that after next week.

Keep creating! 🙂

feel it, boys and girls

I'm a girl. And I like it that way.

I’m a girl. And I like it that way.

So, I Pinterest (is that officially a verb now, like “I Googled it.”?). Welp, I’m making it a verb today. I like looking up inspirational quotes, beautiful pictures and fancy-shmancy recipes that I’ll never attempt to make. While wasting a bit of time today, I came across this picture and quote by Zooey Deschanel (she’s quite lovely, no?). I love how she describes femininity and the courage it takes to be vulnerable. So many times in my life I’ve been called “oversensitive,” “too nice,” that I “feel too much,” and that “my head is in the clouds.” These comments have always made me feel less, that somehow I’m weak for feeling things.

As writers and readers and artists and creators, I’m sure we can all relate to feeling too much and being criticized for it. Our heads are crowded with thoughts. Our hearts feel two sizes too big for our chest. The beauty and intimacy of enjoying a glass of wine with our friends makes us want to cry in happiness. The gigantic and hollow aura of an empty room can make us crumple in sadness.

Although females are criticized for feeling, males really get the brunt of it. To me, seeing a man cry is one of the greatest signs of strength. If a man trusts me enough to express his feelings like that, it’s an intimate moment that can never be taken away. It does take courage to be vulnerable. And damn it, all humans should feel everything. Hemingway, probably the antithesis of femininity, said this: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

Sadly, those virtues destroyed the very man who said those beautiful words. He felt and lived and wrote with abandon. But, he drank too much and suffered from depression and paranoia; we’ll never know what he was thinking in those last few moments in the space between living and ending it all. This manly creature who lived with such vigor, died probably feeling lonely and tired. Sometimes feeling everything can sap the marrow from your bones.

I’ve been guilty of closing myself off to avoid pain, but I refuse to do that anymore. In this life don’t you want to feel it all: the ugliness, the beauty, the sensuality, the love, the kindness, the loneliness, the connections, the heartbreak – everything? And yes, those feelings can destroy you. However, my creative friends, maybe by writing all those feelings down and sharing them with the universe makes it all a little less heavy. And isn’t it thrilling to read something that makes you say, “Wow, I feel that way, too”? Or even better, how about someone commenting on a piece you scrawled out, telling you how it moved him, made him feel something or that it touched him deep inside his soul? That would feel pretty damn amazing.

I think art is meant to save us. It may take us to the brink of destruction while we create it, but the end product is a purging of all that messed-up , crazy and beautiful raw pulp inside of us, just waiting to be released and shone onto others. And within that release, our souls are freed to create once again.

Spirituality vs. Religion

Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” ~ Bonnie Raitt

If I were to classify myself as spiritual or religious, I definitely fall on the side of spiritual. I’m quite fond of Raitt’s quote and it rings true for me, but I know plenty of religious people that have been through hell, and used their faith to help get them through.

Kindness is my religion.

Kindness is my religion.

So, what is the difference between spirituality and religion? I battled finding the right words to delineate the difference, and found a very concise explanation online: “Religion is often about loyalty to institutions, clergy, and rules. Spirituality is about loyalty to justice and compassion. Religion talks about God. Spirituality helps to make us godly. The two need not be at odds. Religion at its best is spirituality in community.”  Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. (May-June 2012) What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality? Retrieved from http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/what-difference-between-religion-and-spirituality

People’s beliefs have always intrigued me. I am not one for debate so much as getting inside another’s head. I have friends that are atheist, agnostic, Catholic, Muslim, protestant and Buddhist. Some don’t like to categorize themselves at all. I can call all of these nonbelievers or believers friends because we have come to an understanding.

When I was a newbie teacher, I was able to put up a small Christmas tree in my classroom (all of my students were Christian or at least celebrated Christmas). When I moved onto a more diverse district, I didn’t want to leave anyone out. So, along with a Christmas tree, our classroom was decorated with a Menorah, a kinara and Diwali oil lamps; we also had a mini post-Ramadan feast. The students and I learned a lot about other cultures and holidays and the non-Christian students were proud to show us their traditions. I was annoyed the next year when my principal told me I couldn’t teach that unit again. But, I understood and respect the separation of church and state. As of December 2012, 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Although some may argue that because Christians are the majority in this country, we shouldn’t have to be so “politically correct” in the classroom. But, why should non-Christians have to conform to the majority’s religion?

As a spiritual person, I believe that I could walk into most any church and find some sort of common ground (unless it’s the Westboro Baptist Church. I’d like to stay as far away as possible from those psychos). I have taught Sunday School and I believe in Jesus’ teachings. However, I don’t agree with everything written in the bible. While recently in the hospital, a pastor stopped by, held my hand and said a prayer for me. This felt intimate and comforting – even just for someone to hold my hand. It’s funny, but while in the hospital you kind of lose all dignity as you are poked, prodded and examined, but no one holds your hand. Just that act made me feel human again and not some pin cushion.

I believe in kindness and miracles and love and helping others and rooting for the underdog. I believe we have souls and that beauty is a gift to be noticed. I pray, and sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening. Is it God, the angels, the universe, my grandmother? It brings comfort and hope, even though some cynics would call it a crutch. I also believe in hard-work – prayers (answered or not) may give you a spark, but you need to keep the embers glowing and light the fire yourself. I think we are a network of people and the more generosity of spirit we exhibit the better off our world will be. I believe we need to love ourselves in order to love anyone else and that random acts of kindness make this world more beautiful. I believe in living with love in my  heart and I do my best not to take a bad mood out on someone else.

Sure, I have my moments of misanthropy when horrible acts are carried out to hurt other humans. It’s easy to lose faith in humanity. But because I love my friends and family, I want to make this world a better place, and I figure I need to start with me. If I’m a mean crabby patty, then how can I expect others to show kindness?

I’ve recently started meditating. While this is not always a spiritual practice, for me I feel connected to something warm and beautiful. Recently someone made me mala beads, which are like rosary beads for Buddhists. The beads have helped my practice of meditation. I focus on a mantra or positive thought for each bead until I’ve gone around the entire string. A mantra is like a little prayer. I pray for my son, myself, my friends. I often wonder if the people I’m thinking about feel the kindness and warm energy at night while I’m meditating. My mala beads are gorgeous, and were made out of stones that I requested for their certain healing benefits.

0mala

My mala beads made of Amazonite, Red Calcite, Amethyst and Howlite stones, strung together with silk. Made with care at http://www.malamemala.com

I’ll leave you with some quotes from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. In the story Hazel, a teenager who is battling cancer, is an atheist. Her father explains to her how he feels about spirituality:

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?”

At the end of the book, Hazel contemplates what her father had told her:

“I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed, and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.”

Do I think I alone can make a difference? Yes. Do I think if kindness is spread by more people our world will be better off? Definitely. Do I think there are positive forces out there? Certainly, because without them I wouldn’t have the love of my friends and family, my son, the kindness of strangers, prayers from a pastor or the beauty of the stars, always twinkling above us, awaiting to be noticed.

Silver Linings: In Life and On Screen

Mental illness is a subject that people generally like to avoid. Depending on the type of mental  illness that someone has, it is easy to hide it from others (just not the people you live with). I’ve heard people make fun of those who take meds for mental illnesses, like it’s made up, not a real disease. However, if you stood in a mall and threw a rock (don’t really do that, that’s mean) you’d have a very good chance of hitting someone who is on some type of psychotropic drug. Certainly one could make the argument that we are overmedicated, but these medicines save lives and help people (and those they love) live happier, healthy lives.

I grew up in a house with a mother who was undiagnosed with bipolar disorder. A person with bipolar disorder swings from mania to depression and back. Depression takes your life-force away, makes you feel melancholy, not want to face the world, have feelings of guilt and worthlessness and fatigue. In the manic stage, you can have racing thoughts, extreme irritability, act impulsively, be aggressive and be in denial that anything is wrong. In her manic stages, my mother cleaned the house from top to bottom in record time. Then she went to bed. Most memories of my mother are of her lying in bed. We didn’t talk about it. At the time, I had no idea what was wrong. I always thought she was mad at me. She was irritable and like a bomb ready to explode, so she was best to be avoided. My sisters and I didn’t invite friends over to our house. Our mother didn’t work, so where were we supposed to say she was at? Besides, if a mess was made there was hell to pay. So, I took refuge at friends’ houses, those being the days when you left in the morning and didn’t return until dinnertime during the summer.

Because my mother was miserable, she made sure everyone else was miserable, too. She especially like to ruin holidays. Several Christmases were “cancelled” by my mother, as she refused to make any food and retreated to her bedroom until December 26th. My sister H (the middle child) and my dad would scramble to put together lasagna and salad and Christmas cookies, while I spread Italian bread with garlic butter and diligently watched it bake in the oven to a golden brown. My oldest sister had wisely moved out upon graduating high school at 17. We carried on, did the best we could, tried to be “normal.”

As I grew older, things got weirder. I can honestly say that I never felt that I really had a mother. There were moments of normalcy, but those were fleeting and one never wanted to rock the boat. At some point while I was in junior high my mother stopped cooking all together. Since my mother never took the time to teach me to cook, I would slap together a bologna sandwich, whip up instant mashed potatoes or heat up a can of ravioli. I am the youngest child, my father traveled a lot for work, H was with her boyfriend and my mom was gone. I really don’t know where she went at night. I was a lonely kid at nighttime. Going over to a friend’s house would mean admitting something was wrong. It seemed every other house had a family sitting around a table enjoying a home-cooked meal. This alone time helped me develop my imagination. Many times I imagined myself running away, floating on raft (a la Huck Finn) and being taken in by a kind, loving family when I washed ashore. I think I wrote that story in my head a thousand times.

In high school during a fit of rage, my mother confessed to me that having children was her “biggest mistake.” We all stole the dreams she once had. We never should have been born and she regretted us every day of her life. She always criticized my hair, my clothes, my face, comparing me to my beautiful sisters. That no boy would ever love me was a mantra she liked to repeat.

Other than a girl’s wedding day, prom is a rite of passage where she wears the perfect dress and fusses over her hair and make-up to look beautiful for her date. I had a wonderful prom, but I was addled with worry beforehand, as my mother refused to take me dress shopping. Yet another power play to take away my joy. Luckily, my sister, always the hero, took me shopping and helped me pick out the perfect dress.

My mother’s mental illness was the worst kept secret ever. I was taught to lie; the lie that we were a normal, healthy family. Perhaps I could have avoided a lot of insecurities, disappointments and the feeling of being lost without having a mother to talk to if she had gotten treatment. I could have saved thousands of dollars in therapy bills and not fucked-up healthy relationships (or entered into unhealthy ones). But, it was swept under the rug, and those that were closest to her had to burden her wrath. Mental illness and abuse cannot be ignored. It’s no way to live and the only way for the person to change is to see a therapist and/or take medication.

Because of my familiarity with mental illness and bipolar disorder, I loved Silver Linings Playbook. I could relate to the subtext of truth vs. lies. Pat (Bradley Cooper) sincerely believes he can win his wife Nikki back after beating the shit out of her lover, being sentenced to time in a mental ward,  and dealing with the restraining order his wife has placed on him. Upon his release (being picked up by his enabling mother) Pat is fired up to read all the books from Nikki’s syllabus and reunite with her, thinking she’ll love his new lean frame. He doesn’t believe his father when he says she might still be dating the man who was her lover. Pat believes there is a silver lining, essentially lying to himself.

When Pat first returns home from the mental institution, the camera pans to the wall where his picture is missing. It has now been relegated to the table, as if his family is saying that they won’t claim a crazy son. They are also in denial about issues in the family. Pat’s father (played brilliantly by Robert De Niro, who in recent films has played a caricature of himself) is superstitious and has OCD. He is a bookie and carelessly places bets on Eagles’ games, seemingly unconcerned that he could lose all of the family’s money. But his parents love their son and want to help him get better; I don’t think they know how.

Pat appears to have rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder, where his moods swing quickly. In a manic episode he reads A Farewell to Arms. He wakes his parents up in the middle of the night, raging against Hemingway. In the novel, Catherine and Frederic danced (which Pat called boring but liked it because they were happy) and lived a quiet life, but Hemingway had to go ahead and kill off Catherine. Pat was incensed that Hemingway would ruin a perfectly happy ending. He chucks the book out a closed window, shattering the glass.

While having dinner over at his friend Ronnie’s and his wife Veronica’s house, Ronnie admits to feeling suffocated by his marriage, their newborn and his job (all whispered while Veronica is in the next room). Soon, widowed and damaged Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), Veronica’s sister, shows up, a force of nature dressed in all black, down to her fingernails. There is instant chemistry between the two, although Pat says he isn’t flirting (after saying she looks nice) and is married. After a few bites of salad, Tiffany stands up, says she’s tired and asks Pat if he’s walking her home. At this point, Tiffany seems to be the most honest of the bunch.

I thought the performances by Cooper and Lawrence were brave, at times nuanced and other times feral and heartbreaking. These are flawed people (as we all are) who are looking for their silver lining (as we all are).

Tiffany and Pat find something to help them cope with life, and it deepens their bond. It’s not a simple rom-com or a male-bonding film about football or entirely about mental illness, but you will experience a roller-coaster ride of emotions, as you see the characters trying to get by, relying on their family, healing and finding their silver linings.

What are my silver linings? I believe that what I endured has made me an empathetic and kind person. I would never hurt someone intentionally. I am proud to see that my son has the same characteristics, and he didn’t have to learn them the hard way. I refuse to live in denial about anything and strive to make myself a better person every day. I was living a lie of a marriage, but woke up and realized I would not live that way ever again.

We all have our scars, but what we each decide to do with them makes all the difference. I have bad days, but I’ve learned healthy ways to cope. Writing, for example, is very cathartic. Reading, music, friends and love are also essential in my life. What do you do to cope and find you silver lining?

Am I a Feminist or not?

Created during WW2 as a morale-booster, it has been adopted by woman as a positive message of our abilities.

Created during WW2 as a morale-booster, it has been adopted by woman as a positive reminder that we can accomplish anything.

Am I a Feminist or not? It’s not that I’m very keen on labels, but it’s something I’ve wondered about myself. I don’t believe anyone is absolutely one “thing” or another. We’re all filled with contradictions and have many layers.

I can tell you this. I am very glad I was born in the ’70s. Many brave women came before me and helped pave the way for my freedoms. I am not considered property, traded from father to husband. I can vote. I can take birth control pills. I have control over my body. I can travel alone. I can go to college. I can get a job. I don’t have to be a secretary or a housewife who stays at home mopping floors, burping babies and making every meal for a husband who just expects it. I can divorce my husband if he mistreats me. In other words, I am considered a human being.

(An aside: For those women who choose to be secretaries or stay-at-home moms, I salute you. Both are tough jobs and very important. I’m just saying we have choices now. Hell, I’m a teacher and that’s a very female-dominated field that was once an only option for females. I teach because it’s my calling. I chose it.)

I like men. I love men. I’m not offended when someone compliments me on my appearance (unless it’s, “Nice rack!” or something similar). Although I am clearly capable of opening my own door or putting on my own coat, I love chivalry and frankly, I think it’s just good manners. I will admit, I’ve not been treated that way for quite some time, so I have to get used to chivalry all over again, and am taken aback when a man does open a door for me (and I like it). I don’t know, I guess some parents just didn’t teach their sons to do those sorts of things for women, or some men may be afraid to open doors in case you are a Feminist. But, yeah, I like being treated like a princess. Put on a pedestal. But not locked away in some tower. I want to be adored, but I also want to be seen as an equal. I want to be admired and respected by my man. I can keep up quite nicely with any conversation, thank you, and enjoy verbal sparring and witty remarks and lots of laughter. I don’t expect someone to agree with everything I say or think, but he should respect my views. I don’t enjoy being ignored or dismissed. That’s not cool. I’m a romantic and I want to be with a romantic man. Part of romance to me is a man being chivalrous and protective.

When I say I want someone to be protective, well, it’s hard to explain, but you either get it or you don’t. I don’t make it a hobby to walk into the wilderness filled with bears and expect my date to be wielding a machete and a shotgun to protect me. Perhaps it’s more a state of mind. I want to know someone has my back. That he will defend me. I want to hold his hand or for him to offer his arm. I realize there are some men that might act like that because they believe the woman is lesser or isn’t capable, but there are plenty of men that want to protect the woman they love and still respect and adore her.

Listen, there is no argument that men and women are different. That’s a good thing in my opinion. I can’t be a firefighter. Not because I’m female, but because I’m diminutive and not really fond of getting burned. But, I’ll tell you, my friend Linda could kick down any door in one try and haul 3 grown men out of any building. I’ve seen some men walking around who are not much bigger than me, so I would suspect they aren’t firefighters either. So, it’s not about the sex of the person, but about the ability. Women should receive equal pay for equal work, no question.

Though possibly not always true, women have to work harder to get to a top position in a company. Many high-powered women are viewed as bitches. I think you have to be tough to be in any high-powered position; you are making many critical decisions, it’s stressful, fast-paced and you have to “manage” those below you, which can mean reprimanding or firing. Are these women really bitches? Well, unfortunately that’s a term some people use for a woman who is difficult or overbearing or tough. Men are supposed to be that way; not everyone is used to a woman being like that.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but of course sexism still exists. I stayed up most of the night last November biting my nails hoping a candidate who didn’t support politicians who say things like “legitimate rape” would win the election. Scary stuff.

I am strong, I am able, I am smart. But I like (non-sexist) romantic, chivalrous men. I do advocate for equal rights for woman. Does that make me a Feminist or not?  Whatever label sticks, I guess. But I am a girl* who knows what she wants.

* I like being called “girl.” It makes me feel younger and it’s cute. And, besides, if a man calls you a girl or sweetheart or darlin’ to be condescending, who cares. That’s his problem. This sweetheart knows she’s no shrinking violet.