7/2/19

Mad About You?



"Why don't you write on the blog anymore?"

It comes up now and then. The emails used to show up almost daily, now it's one or two a week.

"Hey, where'd you go? I miss reading your stuff."

*sigh* I miss writing my stuff. I know, I know...every few months there's a blip of activity on this old site and the few of you still out there, the few of you still reading blogs, get to hear my tired excuses for not maintaining this space. No time! No energy! No fresh ideas!

I was talking to a friend this past weekend and she mentioned the blog. Actually, she mentioned writing in general and how I was going to do big things with the words and how she missed perusing the daily/weekly rants and ramblings I used to proffer right here in this very spot. The excuse I gave her was a surprise, even to me:

"I'm not mad anymore."

HUH? How's that, Jenny? You're not mad anymore?

I elaborated. Told her that back in the day, when instead of mentally blogging I actually, you know, BLOGGED, I was pissed.

Heartbreak and shock still lived and breathed in me but the anger, oh shiiiiiit, the anger was my skeleton, it was the blood and the veins and the nerves. It snapped and crackled like a well-tended fire in a roasting hot hearth and it fueled every aspect of my life. Literally, every.single.aspect.

The rage woke me up, it tugged the covers and yanked at my feet and shoved me into the shower and it pushed the gas pedal of whatever hooptie I was driving. It parented my kids and steered shopping carts and walked the damn dog. It poured wine and vodka and bummed smokes and chose disastrous mates and stabbed forks and spoons into soft warm bowls and plates of carby comfort foods.

And it guided my fingers over various keyboards, each one pressing a single letter which would form a word which would build a sentence which would become a paragraph which would forge

this blog.

The writing came fast and furious, for a long time it felt like a bottomless pit of woe and wrath. I was so mad at my ex-husband and what his dumbass choices meant for me and our children. It was my own personal Olympic flame, blazing endlessly.

Until it went out.

Did it go out all in one fell swoop? Nah. In fact, if you poke at me and hit just the right spot, I'll still take a swipe at ya. There's anger but it's either buried so deep or worn so thin that it couldn't fuel a hamster wheel, let alone a middle aged lady. Now it comes out as indignant protests over long waits at traffic lights or eye-rolling annoyance at the person who's taking too long on the equipment at the gym.

The anger subsided. And so did the words.

That sucks. Because I enjoy writing. I enjoy entertaining people, I enjoy helping others. I like doing this. And while I love to pull out a good Hulk reference and say "that's my secret, Cap, I'm always angry" (because who doesn't enjoy a Marvel reference) I am most definitely not always angry. Not anymore.

(cue Carrie Bradshaw voice) And it makes me wonder...can I write without being mad?

I mean, let's get real. There is SO MUCH to be mad about, right? Politics and the bigoted sexist politicians who politic, mosquitoes, calories, bodies falling apart, dogs getting old, the high price of feta crumbles (FOR REAL THOUGH!!), people who run over baby geese and turtles and possums, people in general. Hell I could be mad all the live long day, now that I think about it.

But I don't want to. I do, however, want to write. I want to write and make people laugh and think and cry. I want to write and help women who are where I was all those years ago. I want to write and let someone out there know they aren't alone.

Also, I'm trapped in a quiet office for 8 hours a day this summer and I can't afford to shop online so, yeah. I could write.

I'm going to hit publish on this one, right now, before I start the second-guess dance and self doubt sets in.

Stay tuned for more. Unless I get mad. LOL.

4/9/19

The Name Game



What's in a name?

So, so much. Our names are saturated with history, soaked with stories and steeped in all kinds of identity. They are bestowed upon us at birth and they traipse alongside us for the rest of our days, sometimes staying absolutely the same, sometimes morphing into something kinda/sorta the same and other times, becoming something completely different (Monty Python reference intended).

I hated my last name as a kid. Absolutely hated it. My full name, back then, was Jennifer Ball and trust me, I've heard every "clever" nickname possible. I was Bouncy Ball, Ball-head, Jenny Ballsalot, Ballface, Jenny Nut, etc. I learned to live with it, obviously, and even learned to make fun of it myself (still kinda wishing my old timey grade-school friend Ann Sachs and I had married and hyphenated our last names)(not too late, my friend, LOL).

But I remember thinking how awesome it was going to be, to get married and find out what life was like without a cringey surname. Wow, can you imagine making reservations and saying uh yeah that's a party of five, at seven, last name Sloane. Or being able to say, it's Ford, like the car instead of yes, that's Ball like football or basketball. Ball.

Boys and girls, you know what happened. I got married and took his last name and shed that Ball like a snake sheds its skin. I reveled in the glory of a name that couldn't possibly be made fun of. It couldn't in any way shape or form be compared to a part, any part, of the human body.

It was good.

Until the person who let me take his name decided to give it to another.

Even then, I kept it. IT WAS MINE FIRST. 

It was a hill I was prepared to die on, that last name. It mattered to me, quite a bit, at first. I wanted to match my kids. I wanted to cling to the identity that was mine, that I had worn for so long. It sounded cute, too, such a nice ring to it, as opposed to Jenny Ball, which just sort of fell out my mouth and wobbled in the air like a Weeble.

I will admit that part of my desire to stay with that last name was like my sweet old dog peeing on every utility pole on our walks. THIS IS MINE. CAN YOU SMELL ME HERE, SUCKAS? I WAS HERE. When the new wife, my replacement, began brandishing the same name, like it was some shiny badge of honor, it made me cling to it all the more. Even when I was handed her plastic-wrapped dry-cleaning by mistake, I hung on.

Life went on. The kids got older and aged out of the time of school directories and yearbooks and it no longer seemed as important to be able to identify the members of our little clan based on half of our names.

I gradually, hesitatingly, pulled out the old last name and tried it on for size.

It became my writing name when I discovered that the internet has this search function and people could find out who I was, and therefore, who the other people in my life were. For the sake of my children's privacy and for the avoidance of making the ex and his harpy mad, I became Jennifer Ball again.

At work and on some social media platforms and to my friends, though, I was still the Other Jenny. It was a somewhat harmonious existence.

Until I went to get my drivers license renewed.

Minnesota has a new ID system kicking in, one that requires approximately 906 pieces of identification when you renew. I carefully downloaded and printed and accumulated the information they requested. Passport, old license, bank account statements, W2s, paychecks, the blood of my firstborn, fingernail trimmings and strands of hair with root-bulbs attached.

The woman at the DMV took my pile of Jenny-ness and began loading it all into her magic computer. It was all going well! Fast, even, by DMV standards. Until her fingers stopped clicking keys and she said, "Hmm. That's weird."

There are a thousand times in your life you don't want to hear "Hmm. That's weird." Like during a gyno exam or in bed with a new lover or while getting your oil changed. "Hmm. That's weird" is also something you don't want to hear at the DMV.

"It says here that this social security number doesn't match with your name." She said this to me as she backspaced and tried it again. Nope.

Here's the deal, you guys: apparently I never got around to changing my last name on my social security number. According to our government, I was still, and always had been, Jennifer Ball. I guess I should have figured it out. All these years of doing my taxes, I used my old last name. We did that when I was married, too, and yes I realize that most people would have thought to themselves at some point yeah I need to figure this out but I'll tell ya what, in my world if it ain't broke YOU DO NOT FIX IT. So it was never addressed.

The government had absolutely zero trouble taking checks from New Jenny to pay Old Jenny's tax bills, you know? Also my bank never batted an eye when someone named Jennifer Ball deposited a check into that other Jennifer's account. It was all copacetic.

Until Minnesota had to get all fancy with their IDs. The woman at the DMV was great, she tried different approaches, she even had me go print off one more new and exciting document that had not only my old name on it, but the new one too. None of it worked.

So, it would appear that I need to go completely Ball again. It's either that, or go to the Social Security Office and bring another stack of papers to another person with another magic computer in front of them. Have you ever sat in a Social Security Office? I have. And I'm never doing that again, if I can help it.

It's easier to just get everything back to matching what the Social Security number says. Hence, the name change at work. And on my bank account. And alllll my other accounts. It's tedious but it sure beats driving downtown, paying for parking and giving up a personal day from work to sit in a loud and crowded waiting area for hours.

It it was pretty funny when I told our veterinarian that the dog's name is now Walter Ball. He's not psyched about it.

One thing I've discovered, on this road back to my roots, is that I don't hate my last name anymore. I kind of love it. It's me. It's short and easy to spell and it doesn't bear the stains of a lousy marriage to a lousy man. It's mine now.

It's mine, again.






4/4/19

Haunted (by) Houses




**This was a post I made in a private group. The feedback was notable so I thought I'd put it out here, you know, because it's important to know that we aren't alone in this messy life. For those who are new to this particularly cuckoo corner of the internet, here's a synopsis for ya: husband/father walked out and divorce was final in 2006. Funny thing, though, is it didn't really end in 2006. He left me with four kids, which was tough, but he also left me with a mountain of debt. Our little house, which was worth less than $100k, had been used to take out a few loans (home equity, second mortgage,golden parachute for him when he retired from our marriage, blah blah). I "got" the house in the divorce because I thought that was all I needed. The loans on the house exceeded $300k. I'd been a stay at home mom for the entirety of the marriage and raised the kids while he worked his way up the ol' corporate ladder. At the time he bolted, he was making decent money and I was awarded generous child support and spousal maintenance, which I had planned on using to pay off debts, finish school and get back to living life. He stopped all payments about a year into it. Cold turkey, all I got was a one-sentence email saying something like "i'm experiencing some difficulties so payments may be slow or stop completely." Turns out the difficulties were deciding which Audi to buy and also getting his pool fixed 😂 Anyway. He found the money for an attorney and somehow managed to get his child support obligation reduced to zero. I found a pro-bono attorney and for almost 6 years tried to get him to help take care of his kids. By the time "justice" was served (justice, it turns out, comes to about 19 cents on the dollar of what he owed), two of the kids were 18 or over, I'd lost our little house, had to file bankruptcy and my credit was shattered. No. Not shattered. It was like Thanos got a hold of it and *poof* it was ashes. Since then I have done what I could to keep things normal for the kids. I work full-time, was there 100% for my kids and now all four have graduated from high school and are either in college or working. Three of them live at home (two in college full-time) because they are trying to save money. They help out as much as they can. I pay almost $2k a month in rent, have paid in full and on time every month for 9 years. That's about as good a price you'll get here in Minneapolis for a rental house in a city that's close to busing, schools and our places of work (for real, you find a three bedroom house or townhome or apt in a first/second ring suburb of Minneapolis for less than $1500 a month that isn't made of cardboard and get back to me) . I'm 52. I'm a good mom, I think I'm a somewhat decent person and I represent a large swath of the United States population: those who are productive citizens, gainfully employed, living paycheck-to-paycheck. Every time I get a little bit tucked away into savings there is something that needs to be taken care of: one of our ancient cars breaks down, a tooth cracks, someone's tuition is due, we need heat in the winter (lol), etc. I am absolutely, 100% blessed to actually have some bootstraps to pull, but my arms are tired and on the day I saw this house and then came home and wrote this post, I was ragey and pms-ing and dammit I just needed to vent. ***EDIT*** since then, the amazing people in my group have rallied and donated and offered credit counseling help and names of realtors and just straight up loved and cheered and commiserated.I will do this, I swear on all that is good and holy- I will get a house and I will plant those gd lilacs. **

Warning: contains swears, angst, some wailing and minor gnashing of teeth

Ughhh you guys. I want to buy this house but there’s no way in hell I would qualify for any sort of loan because that mother effing bankruptcy and foreclosure are still showing up.

This is what I want to tell people who insist that I’m bitter. Who tell me to get over it, who shake their heads and say “I can’t believe you still think about this”. Who look at my ex, in his million dollar house, livin’ the dream and then at me, livin’ the nightmare of financial insecurity and terror over things like “where will I live when our sweet landlord gets smart and decides to sell?” and see nothing unfair or unjust.

“Jenny, he’s moved on. Why can’t you?”

Because every.single.day there is a reminder. Some days I’m SO GOOD at ignoring them. I line up my blessings and kiss them on the forehead as I count them. I laugh and curl up with the good fortune I do have and the reminders slink away.

But the houses. Shit. The houses, they won’t be ignored (I wonder if they sound like Glen Close 😂😂). They are structures built of possibilities and dreams. They are carnies calling out to me as I try my hardest to just keep walking, eyes focused on the sidewalk, the sky, anything but these homes. “Step right up! Feast your eyes on this little beaut! Too bad you can’t qualify for a gd thing, Jenny! This coulda been yours if only you’d made some better life choices! If only you’d ignored that tall asshole singing along to REM at the bar that night!” (it was The End of the World As We Know It, hahaha)(cry)

I lost the home my dad bought and remodeled with his own two hands thanks to my ex husband’s fuckery. A home that welcomed our new babies, that was framed with plants and trees we put into the ground with love, that kept us safe and warm through seasons of cold and rain. A home I had planned on living in for the rest of my life. Gone, because some dude couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.

People comfort me and say “aye you don’t want to own a home anyway, too much work and responsibility” but dammit I want that work and that responsibility. I really do. I want grass that’s mine and walls I can paint whatever color I want and a yard that is crying out for some lilacs and a little screened in porch. I want to stand outside at night, not in a creepy stalker way but you know, after hauling the garbage to the curb or something, and look in the windows and see glowing lights in a cozy living room that belongs to ME.

I want it and it’s not going to happen no matter how hard I try. And I know the day will come when my dog and I traipse past this one and the sign in the front yard will say “SOLD” and one more little sprig of excitement and hope will be crushed.

We’ve walked by so many of these houses and each time I’ve thought “augh I should just ask, I should just try” and then I remember that I have the credit of a ghost. A ghost who was so spectacularly screwed over that my credit, like my sense of self and the hope of ever truly, I mean- wholly-recovering, is irretrievably broken.

It’s not even that great, this house. That’s what I’m telling myself.


And I keep walking.



2/17/19

Self Care, Tax Refunds and Messy Bun Gurus

The Self Care and Messy Bun Gurus Part

I am SO OVER privileged women telling me to be still, wash my face and to practice "self care". I'm here to testify that life sucks hard sometimes and it will be miserable and scary and washing your face won't do shit. It's actually hilarious to me that people who don't, and can't really understand what it's like to struggle become these icons of inspiration. 

I'm not saying that everyone has to struggle in order for their stories to be important or valid. ALL of our experiences as humans are important, even those that are fairy-tale pretty. 

But it seems almost dangerous to blithely toss around a few platitudes and call it self help. It's not that easy.

The worst part of this gross trend (yeah to me it's gross) is that some women will look at themselves and their lives and and their situations and wonder why the hell they can't just pull harder on the ol' bootstraps because duh, our problems are so easily dissolved with some soap, water, prayers and a lil me time. And then the guilt starts.

I've faced some terrible stuff (spouse leaving, bankruptcy, poverty, abuse) but even I wouldn't assume to become some guru of messy bun wisdom. Because I know my struggles look like a trip to freaking Disney compared to what others have gone through/are going through.

One more thing that bugs me about this: these are the voices that get amplified and shared and turned into glossy books because they have the means to get heard. Connections and money and time- we are DROWNING in insta-inspo fluff and will never hear many truly powerful women's voices because they don't have even a speck of those means. 

I guess the thing that saddens me about society's current obsession with these affluent women who can't seem to ever get their gd hair tucked just right behind their ears is this: would someone like JK Rowling make it if she was just starting out now? Would Oprah? How many Harry Potters is the world missing because the brain they live in is too broke and exhausted to pay for a social media assistant or attend a writer's workshop at noon on a Tuesday? How many stories that would actually help are we never going to hear because the person who lives it isn't married to a hedge fund investor or has a trust from mom and dad? 

I know this may come across as a poor person crying and pouting because *newsflash* rich people have advantages but, man. I'm just saying it would be nice to hear from more women who have truly clawed their way to the top from somewhere lower than omg remember that time we couldn't afford to get the dog groomed

The whole premise of self-care, self-love, self anything is picking YOU over all the other stuff.

The reality for many of us is that WE are it. We alone bear the responsibility to keep our families, and ourselves, afloat. And when it comes down to choosing between our kids and ourselves, it’s pretty obvious who wins. 

I screw up, a lot, still. You’d think after so many years of living without much money I’d have figured this shit out. But despite knowing just how hard and how desperate things can be...

I
Still
Screw 
Up

I tend to go overboard at Christmas, for example. Obviously not like, “a Lexus in the driveway with a big bow on it” overboard but for some reason even with grown ass kids I’m always trying to fill some empty space with just one more present. Just one more thing and they will see how much I love them and how sorry I am that the other 364 days of the year are spent with a mom who grinds her teeth at night and who reminds people to turn off lights and who stands in the grocery store deciding if that pint of ice cream is worth it or is way too self indulgent.

Last fall I bought a ticket to see the Foo Fighters. It was definitely way too self indulgent. It was way out of my price range. It was absolutely worth it. I lived on lentil soup for a week or two but my goodness- it’s been five months and I’m still able to close my eyes and go back to that night like it’s a sweet spring water well and draw so much joy from it. That $120 dollar ticket might have been one of the stupidest things I've spent my money on, but it was also one of the smartest. 

That, my friends, is what self-care looked like for me last year. Dave Grohl, loud music, and a night out with a small side of guilt.

The Tax Refund Part

Tax refund season is upon us and with it will come comments and sighs and fist-shaking at all of the poors who run out and spend everyone else's hard-earned money on televisions and manicures and iPhones and who then find themselves broke and struggling again soon after making yet another stupid choice. 

And you know what? That's true for some. Some people do make less-than wise decisions when a chunk of cash that's not already earmarked for rent or food or new tires or prescriptions shows up in their checking account or in the mailbox. It's hard for me to describe what it's like to get a tax refund after months of holding your breath as you swipe your debit card at the grocery store. 

I guess it's like being so hungry that you want to gnaw your arm off and then someone saying "hey open that door over there my friend you won't believe your eyes" and you open that door and there is a neverending buffet of comfort food: buttery mashed potatoes, all the pad thai a girl could ever want to shovel into her gullet, ice cold martinis...wait. That might be an actual dream I've had. 

Anyhoo. It's like that. And I guess I can't blame someone who has only tasted struggle and worry for months on end to want a smidgen, just a nibble, of something better. 

But not me. I've only been getting a refund for a few years, before that I had to pay in thanks to my ex-husband's lawyer and also irony. 

The refunds I get might look big and exciting, but here's the deal: I break the refund down and divide it into 12 parts. My income as a secretary is just barely over the poverty line and a huge chunk of that goes to rent. I'm very fortunate to have kids who are able to pitch in now, honestly when I think back to where we were just a few years ago it hurts my heart. I don't know how we did it. I don't know how we survived. 

So the refund, once flayed open and cleaved into pieces, doesn't look so big and exciting. It looks like help. It looks like a late utility bill finally being paid off. It looks like a depleted savings account getting some padding. 

It looks like this pair of earrings I treated myself with last night. My daughter and I, bored out of our minds on a Saturday, went to the mall. She had a sweater to return at H&M and that's where I saw these. Yeah I know the company is garbage and we shouldn't buy from them but here we are. 

This is the poor chick's version of self care. $6.00, and because I don't learn from past mistakes I'm sure they'll break in less than a week but they made me happy.

I'm sure someone will chime in with a Dave Ramsey/Suze Orman tidbit and remind me that those six dollars could have been a spaghetti dinner or three gallons of gas. But last night, they bought me these earrings. And they were worth every penny. All 600 of them. 





If you're still here, thank you for reading this far. It's been a long stretch of time since I sat and typed and the words came so easily. This is certainly not my finest work but it sure felt good to write. I hope it lasts. And I hope you stick around.

Love, 

Jenny







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