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







11/29/18

When A Ghost From The Past...Is A Ghost




Way back when I first started this blog, I thought it would be a funny thing to call those unfortunate dudes who ended up ensnared in my web, "victims". I wrote many posts about them, and gave each victim a moniker. Some of the monikers alluded to their careers (Professor Plum, Sad Counselor, lol), one was a nod to a stunning resemblance (oh hey John McCain) and a few others retained their real names but with a twist (Curiously Cheap George, Angry Steve). I'm actually cackling over these, you guys. Maybe I do need to get back out there.

When I look back on the fellas I've been involved with during my post-divorce life, it's usually done with a shudder or a regretful sigh or sometimes I go as far as self flagellating ala' Chris Farley in his SNL skit "The Chris Farley Show" (how could you be so stupid!). Sometimes, though, in place of the shudder there's a smile. The afterglow of something that wasn't meant to be but wasn't all bad.

A month or so ago, I had a thought pop into my brain completely out of the blue. One of those random "hey whatever happened to?" along with some fuzzy memory snapshots. This time, the subject was Ben. He was also referred to as Mullet Man on occasion.

We met via eharmony and he was the first man I allowed to meet my kids. Turns out he was also the last man I allowed to meet my kids so there you go. Our relationship happened just prior to the social media explosion (sweet jeeeezus should I be sitting in a rocking chair and handing out Werthers while I spin this yarn?) so when it ended, it really did end. There was no facebook stalking, no Instagram peeking. Ben there, done that, no t-shirt bought.

So. I had this hankering to find out what Ben was up to. Not in a psycho, bunny boiling way, just a nagging curiosity. Wherefore art thou, Ben?

I looked on Facebook. Nada. I dusted off my LinkedIn account. Nope. Put on my CSI coat and did a Google search. Nothing substantial.

I went back to Facebook and did the first truly creepy act: searched up one of his kids. They have very unique names...well, not the names themselves but the spelling. So they were easy to find. And on one of their profiles, there was a pic of said kid (who is now a grown-ass young man like my kids) holding up Ben's high school senior portrait with a caption of "miss this dude". Ooof.

A little further digging around and I learned that Ben had died.

I don't know how, I do know when. Early in 2011. Not long after I had written about him, and approximately four years after we dated.

The news of his death hit me. Not in a grieving-widow kind of way, but it hit me. I've always considered the relationships in my past as something like old coats in the front closet: they haven't been worn in years but if you open that door and flip through enough hangers, there they'll be. Reminders of a time long gone.

Ben wasn't a bad person. He had his flaws just like we all do. But the dude made me laugh and that is how I remember him. In fact, one of the funniest memories I have of ALL TIME features Ben in the starring role, with a plastic bag as best supporting actor.

We were driving somewhere, in Ben's jeep. It was summer and the windows were wide open and we were tooling down the highway with the radio cranked UP and we were singing along...all of a sudden a white bag whipped up from the backseat and wrapped itself, alien-style, around Ben's face. Yes, it could have resulted in tragedy but he snagged it off and we proceeded to almost pee our pants laughing about it. I'm laughing right now, with tears in my eyes, just picturing him with that damn Anoka, MN haircut and that bag plastered on his mug.

Oh Ben.

He's the guy who introduced me to Godsmack and Manhattans and he called my dog Salty Walty. He fell asleep to Spongebob every night and sometimes needed an inhaler in the middle of sexy time. He was a dad and a son and a metal head and now he's gone.

I hope he's in a heavenly stadium right now, rocking out HARD to Van Hagar. I hope his kids are doing okay and I know for certain I will never again be able to look at a white plastic bag without smiling.

8/21/18

Words vs Actions and all that matters



Warning: I'm in a mood.

Why? I can't really tell you. I'm enjoying a rare day off. The summer school office gig ended yesterday and there are a few days before the Back To Life/Back To Reality 2018 tour begins. School secretaries are a good-natured bunch but we do have a reentry process that sometimes involves salty ire.

So yes. I'm in a mood.

And while in this mood, I happened to be looking through a pile of mail that one of my roommates/offspring brought in and left in the living room.

A J Jill catalog (WE MISS YOU JENNY lolol I bet you do, Jill)
A once-in-a-lifetime-offer from Xfinity (maybe once in my lifetime you can offer internet that doesn't blow, xfinity!)(also that doesn't cost a metric shit-ton of cash)
Oh! And what's this?
A letter from the University of Minnesota. Addressed to my ex-husband.

We've been divorced for a long, long time. Almost as long as we were married! And this wasn't an important letter. It was an advertisement, really.

But it was addressed to him. He's never lived here. I don't want to get into all the psychological stuff about moving on and getting over it, but I will say that it does feel good to be able to finally see his name and not feel anything other than annoyance. His presence in my life has gone from scary brain eating zombie to small mosquito and like Kramer going commando, I'm lovin every minute of it.

So no, seeing his name on a piece of paper in my quiet, peaceful and love-filled home didn't push me down a rabbit-hole of sadness and anger like it used to do. It did, however, cause my eyes to roll a tiny bit and for my mouth to open and the following mutterings to tumble out:

why am i still getting that dipshit's mail?

These words were spoken softly and without intention to be shared with any other living being besides my faithful pooch who shadows me on these days off like it's his job.

I didn't realize one of those aforementioned roommates/offspring were awake and within earshot. Oops.

For a second the shrill judge and jury voices of the Greek internet chorus rang through my brain.

omg jenny that's their FATHER you're talking about
never ever ever ever badmouth the other parent it will guarantee that your children will be irreparably damaged and probably become terrible humans
oh honey you gotta love your kids more than you hate your ex
high road high road high road high road infinity

They rang for a sec and then I shooed them outta there.

My kids are all chronologically grown. They are all over 18. I did a good job of holding my tongue for many years.

One dipshit does not equal years of badmouthing. So I let it go. I told those voices to leave and I also told them this...

The fact that someone's sperm found an egg and fertilized it does not make them a saint. Nor does being the owner of that egg and growing a human being. The title of Mom or Dad does not equal Superhero, folks. If it did, we'd not be able to exhale without breathing on one.

I am one hundred percent behind the whole "watch what you say around the kids" sentiment. It's truth. Speaking as a child of divorce, I can testify to it! My own mom, rest her soul, used to say some pretty awful things about my dad. And I can remember every single syllable. So I took that experience and tried my damnedest to not hit "rewind" on history. And I think I did a passable job*.

I am also one hundred percent behind the whole "actions speak louder than words" sentiment. It's truth. Speaking as a child of divorce, I can testify to it! My own dad, who is alive and kicking, never said one bad thing about my mom. Nothing. And if anyone had the right to complain, it was him. He fought for custody and lost, and then saw his ex and her lover ride off into the sunset with two confused kids. He took in one of those confused kids when she got tired of being hit and needed a safe place to live. My dad and I aren't as close as we should be but that's because I'm a messed up human and not because of anything he did or said.

My mom was a good person. I loved her. But she wasn't a saint. My dad had his faults too but he wasn't deserving of the awful things my mom said about him. As I grew up and lived more life I realized these things. Realization came a little late and it will haunt me for the rest of my days. There were years I took my mom's words as the gospel truth. I don't hate her for it. I know she was flawed as we all are.

But now I see those past words and actions and I know better.

*I haven't been perfect. I have made mistakes, some huge ones, many small ones. But I know better and so I try to do better.

There are many of you who are in the beginnings of your divorce story. You will receive lots of advice, whether you want to, or not. Oh you'll get it.

If there's one thing I can add to that avalanche of warnings and proselytizing and inspo, it's this:

Watch your mouth. But watch your actions just as closely.

Both matter. And both will leave an impression.



8/3/18

Lonely Head Seeks Chest



You know how it is when you read something that creates such a vivid mental picture it actually freaks you out a little bit? Like, whoa, where has this jabby shard of melancholia been hiding?

I'm just about done with the first true page-turner I've read this summer, "Final Girls" by Riley Sager, and there is a short passage in it that shook me right to my spinster core. It's a scene where the protagonist is seeking comfort from her almost-fiance:

"I press myself deeper into Jeff's chest, his tie slick on my cheek. He mistakes it for distress, which I suppose it is, and holds me tighter. I let myself be held, turning inward..."

That's all it took to send me into a semi-hypnotic state, momentarily, while my brain traveled back in time. Which time? I'm not sure it was any specific one, it almost felt like a "best of chest resting" collection. All the times I was close enough to someone to feel their heartbeat in my bones, hear the warm comfortable rumble of a deep voice at its wellspring. Maybe it was some sort of throwback to childhood and the memory of my dad picking me up, carrying a sleepy little me from the car to my bed. Or the countless times, over the years, of falling into a blissful slumber accompanied by the cadence of a lover breathing in and out.

Whatever it was, it was so clear and so strong and left me so specifically LONGING. Normally this stuff hits me with a little generalized angst, you know? Like a vague sort of wanting, missing.

It dawned on me that the act of resting my melon on a man's chest is something I really love to do and something I apparently miss. Quite a bit. Reflecting on the spastic attempts I've made to mate over the past few years, it occurred to me that I do sometimes attempt this maneuver but am usually thwarted by a: a reluctant/non-compliant chest (or else we're sitting up which is just kind of awkward) or b: focusing too hard on being quiet (the hazards of cohabitation with adult offspring and one overprotective dog).

It's almost enough to lure me back into the dating scene. Almost. Just the thought of finally having a home plate again, having that security and hearing the vibrato of something that's not running on two AA batteries...but then I remember.

Fun single gal looking for dude with chest


I remember that in Dating Years I am approximately the same age as Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula and I remember all of the horror stories about men my age who will not even glance at a woman unless she's barely into her thirties. And the all-too-familiar tale of married guys who are just looking for a piece on the side or the ones who seem like they're all that and the proverbial bag of chips but then end up ghosting you.

I remember all of that and it suddenly seems like so much work for such little reward. Finding someone in my age range who isn't just a player or who isn't married or who isn't an emotionally stunted scaredy cat is akin to finding that perfect pair of jeans: we all know they're out there, dammit. They're just so hard to locate!

There's this old song by the group Cracker, it's called Low and I will admit it to you all, I love it (oh early 90's you were so awesome). It pops up regularly in my ears while working out and I hardly ever skip it. My favorite verse in the song is this one:

A million poppies gonna help me sleep
With just one rose that knows your name
The fruit is rusting on the vine
The fruit is calling from the trees

"The fruit is rusting on the vine", my goodness I don't know if there's ever been a more apt description of what it's like to be a middle aged single woman. Sometimes I wonder if that's just how it's going to be, me hanging here, going from ripe to withered to dead on the vine without being able to share it all with someone (god help me for using this word) special.

It makes me think about our time we have on this planet and how we choose to spend it. Perhaps that temporary longing is something I just have to learn to live with. Or maybe it's something I just have to heed.

Yes, my friends, I got all of this from reading a tiny snippet of words in a book about serial killers.

It is exhausting being me.



 





 

7/29/18

How You Like Me Now? No really. How?

Women tend to go through what I call "The Invisibling". It starts around your late thirties, picks up speed through the forties and by the time your fifties roll around it's full strength. It's like we are wearing invisibility cloaks. God only knows what will happen in the next decade: do we become like vampires who can't even see our own reflections? Do we just become columns of vapor moving in and out of society like gaseous ghosts? Pretty soon only dogs and the very young will be able to see me. Lassie? What's wrong girl? Did Timmy fall down the well or is there a 50 year old woman nearby?

In a way, it's understandable. I mean, you know how it is, zoos will have a baby animal exhibit and people go nuts but if they had one featuring tired cows with dried up udders, would anyone go? (heck yeah I would because cows are amazing but that's just me)(really they are kind of like huge dogs)

Society tends to fawn over the young. The fresh. The collagen-rich. Middle aged and up women? Not so much.

And try being a fat woman. You might as well not exist at all. Cripes. A lot of clothing brands can't even be bothered to carry plus sizes in their actual stores, only online. Like, fine okay we will make clothes that might fit you gals but you do not get to try that shit on before you buy it. Hello, Old Navy. I'm talking to you!

So as I continue on with this fitness experience, I'm noticing a few things. And one of those things is that, for the first time in ages, other people are actually noticing me. Men, specifically.

A few glances now and then, some actual banter at the gym. Friendliness. Smiles. Eye contact.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. 

I go to the gym almost every day. My summer hours at work are 6:30-2:30. It's so laid back, and so casual, that I am able to wear my workout clothes and just head to the YMCA when it's quitting time. Now I'm part of that little crowd of late-afternoon regulars. I lift weights for about thirty minutes, and then head to the track for an hour of what I have dubbed walkrunning. I blast my music and think and walk like it's my job. I don't stop until I hit at least 12k steps.

There's this guy who is often there at the same time. He's approximately my age (late 40's-early 50's) and kind of cute in that way middle aged men can be sometimes. It may just be that most everyone else who is there at that time is 70+ so there's that, but...

We've smiled and exchanged some pleasantries. This is the point in the post where I hit pause, and the record scratch sounds rings out loud and clear.

REMEMBER that I am awkward and have very cavewoman-like social skills. Chances are real good that Gym Dude is just a nice guy who sees a fellow exerciser and is being a normal kind human. In my head, though, any interaction is either an advance or an intrusion. There's really no in-between with me and that makes life puzzling and also kind of like a Rubik's cube. Everyone else can get all the colors together and there's Jenny in the corner pretending she has some great master plan technique but in reality I'm screaming internally and trying to not smash the gd cube against the floor.

So I respond to his smiles and chat with what is probably a threatened chimpanzee baring-of-the-teeth-smile/grimace and some kind of strained vocal activity. Why am I still single?

Of course this newfound and somewhat unsettling attention provokes a little righteous indignation with me.

I am the same person. Even though there's less of my physical being, I am the same freaking person I was a few months ago.

Or am I?

Discussing all of this with a friend made me look at it from a different perspective. I had mentioned the guy at the gym, and also a couple other instances where a man who didn't have any obligation to acknowledge me, did. And did so in a flattering kind of way.

"It makes me crazy, you know?" I said. "People are really shallow. Men especially. I am the same Jenny now that I was before I started this thing back in March."

My friend smiled and looked at me: "But are you really the same person? Think about it. Yeah there's like 50 pounds less of you but you've definitely changed in other ways. You wear different style clothes, you smile more, YOU are the one who is making eye contact now, where before you either just looked straight ahead or even worse, down at the floor. Maybe these dudes were looking at you but you just didn't notice."

I was all ready with my standard THEY JUST WANT YOUNGER AND SKINNIER LADIES rant when she continued:

"And yeah, maybe it is because your body is smaller. Aren't you the one who only likes tall guys, Jenny? Think of all the cool short men you've been literally overlooking for the past decade. Don't tell me if one of them suddenly became 6' 3" you wouldn't notice."

I looked for some ointment to put on the savage burn and reluctantly agreed.

This also came up when discussing the poor soul who was fixed up with me a few times earlier this year. I was so excited to go out on a date because I had lost 17 pounds and felt like a new person. Things didn't work out with us (it was mutual and not gross or unfriendly at all) but another friend said "Wow, I wonder what he'd think if he saw you now?" And I was all "BUT I AM ME STILL AND IF HE DIDN'T LIKE ME THEN WHY WOULD HE LIKE ME NOW" because there still is truth in that statement.

On our dates we had really good conversation, we had mutual likes and dislikes and I even told him how to roast asparagus. But we just didn't click and despite all of my positive self-talk of there's no shame in admitting someone doesn't turn your crank, it doesn't make them an asshole Jenny. not every guy is your ex, there was still doubt. Was it my weight?

Maybe it was. I don't know. He was in great shape and I still didn't get any butterflies but then again I am a woman and there's been science stuff that has shown us, over and over, that the guys are visual and we ladies are more about what's on the inside.

Or are we? This whole experience has led to some deep thinks for yours truly. And it has me questioning my own prejudices and desires.

It also has me wondering if I'm finally ready to start thinking about dating again. I mean, actually trying instead of creating lunatic scenarios in my head when someone tosses a benign how you doin' my way.

I will close this therapy session with a progress photo. It's with great reluctance that I do this, since I am very sensitive about what I let the world see.

When the Today show video came out, the one about how being a stay at home mom didn't prepare me for life post-divorce, something in me changed. I have only watched it once and that was when I decided to start working on getting healthier. It's a beautiful video with a great message but it was a jolt of reality regarding my body size. (here's the link if you want to see it. I suggest just turning the volume up and not looking at it)

Also helpful (LOL) was the guy who commented on the video "maybe if Jennifer didn't eat like a sea lion there would've been more money to feed her family".

Sea lion? Maybe. But like a kind person replied: "Sea lions are badass."

Here's where I'm at (well, the gym bathroom picture was taken a couple weeks ago, there have been a few new muscles since then I think). It's very important that I point out to you what you CANNOT see in these photos: how I felt/feel. My anxiety has lessened considerably. I sleep better. There is zero heartburn. My knees don't hurt. My back doesn't hurt. I can walk faster and longer and lift insane heavy weights. Our outer shells are just one aspect to us, and that's all you can see in pictures. Weight is a touchy subject and I don't want anyone to think this is a shaming thing.

It's me in both pics. Just remember that. Still me.





7/25/18

We Need To STOP Normalizing Infidelity



I'm writing this with tears in my eyes and a raging fire in my heart. A member of a private facebook group I run just shared her heartbreaking story. Without giving away any clues to her or her ex-husband's identities, here's the breakdown:

Husband, after several years and a few kids, gets restless. He finds his (lol) soulmate and starts a big time relationship with her. While, of course, still under the guise of being "happily" married to his wife. You know how it goes...like a cheating ass mullet he was all AwesomeHubbyDad in the front and ClandestineSecretLovah in the back. Eventually, he has to choose between the two ladies and despite that old axiom "they never leave their wives" that's exactly what this dude did. Left his wife, left his kids and left the home. Left a partner with whom he had promised to build and maintain a life, and not only left her but did so as so many of them do: with an attitude.

Look, being left for someone else is never going to be an enjoyable experience but I imagine it would be a whole lot more palatable if the one who is doing the leaving would show some, any, freaking remorse. If they would own their part in it. But I, and millions of others who have been left can tell you that it rarely goes down that way.

For some reason the ones who do act out this tired old cliche tend to do it with a weird sort of vengeance. An oddly misplaced anger towards the one they are leaving, as if she/he somehow pushed them towards this seedy fate. Like the choleric farmer who gets his mask ripped off being all pissed at the Scooby gang. "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for my meddling spouse!"

Instead of expressing sorrow for the way things ended, and wanting to do the human thing of, you know, ensuring that the family they left in shards will be able to survive, they end up doing practically the opposite. Some of them seem bent on not only making life harder for their soon-to-be former spouse, but downright impossible.

It's all a shit sandwich, of course, but the secret sauce in it just may be how the people in their world, how society in general, doesn't seem to find it as appalling as they should. Where is the outrage? Where is the disappointment?

I'm not saying we should start doling out scarlet letters or reviving the stocks/pillory system, but damn. Part of me still wonders what if? 

What if one of the dozens of coworkers/friends who knew about my husband's affair had spoken up? "uh you guys better hope HR doesn't find out about this, just sayin"

What if one of her friends, instead of giggling with her about the naughty married dude, had said "you sure this is cool?" or "wait- doesn't he have, like, four kids??"

What if someone, ANYONE, in either of their families had taken them aside and said "what you're doing is shitty and mean and wrong. Stop it."

Yeah yeah. I know. Water under the bridge and all that. And yes, with the benefit of years passing I do know that in my personal case, if it hadn't been her it would've been someone else.

What am I trying to say here? That the people who choose to be part of infidelity should be punished? That they be shunned or ostracized or sent to their own gross island? No. Of course not. At the beginning of my journey-through-hell, my own stepmom warned me: "Be ready to lose friends and family. Blood is thicker than water." And it did happen, much to my dismay. I mean, let's be real, we don't expect them to be kicked out of the family or anything but it hurts to be photo-shopped out of that world and seeing someone else so seamlessly taking your place.

*I am incredibly lucky to still be on very good terms with most of the ex-in laws. And I got to keep most of the friends, too 😉 but many aren't as fortunate, and end up being outcasts at events where the whole big happy family congregates*

I hear these stories, you guys, every.single.day. You'd think there would be some sort of callousness on my part, some desensitization to it. You'd think that whenever a new email popped into the ol' inbox, laying it all out, it might become almost redundant...the names and other details may change but the story is almost always the same.

Instead of growing numb, I seem to be growing even more empathetic, despite having been there, done that AND getting the damn t-shirt.

Too bad the rest of the world can't say the same.

    






7/18/18

The Windfall



Did I ever tell you guys about my foreclosure windfall?

I got $3,000 as part of a nationwide settlement against some of the banks behind the spate of foreclosures that steamrolled a bunch of Americans between the years of 2008-2010, mine included.

Of course, since the universe has a twisted sense of humor, the check went to my ex-husband. One night I was downstairs, doing laundry, when William came prancing down and announced, "Our dad is at the front door. He wants to see you." I thought he was kidding at first, but when I trudged upstairs and warily peeked out at the front stoop, lo and behold..there he was, goatee on his face and a couple of damp pieces of paper in his hand (it was drizzling out).

"Hey!" he said, like we were old friends who hadn't seen each other for a while. "Hey! I don't know if you've heard about this settlement thing, for people who lost their homes?"

I looked at him. I wanted to say, "Oh you mean PEOPLE LIKE ME? Like your KIDS? YEAH I'VE HEARD A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT". But instead I just said, "Yeah, I have." He held up one of the pieces of paper, which was a check, and said, "For some reason this came to my house, and it's made out to both of us." I squinted in the dim porch lantern light. Yep. There we were. The both of us.

He spoke again: "I will sign it, but first I need you to sign this little note I drew up." He passed over a handwritten document that said something about how me, the undersigned, absolved he, the other guy, of any taxes or other fees that would come of this financial bounty. "You're going to have to pay taxes on this next year," he explained to me, slowly and carefully as if explaining to a feeble old lady how she's going to be placed in a nursing home but not to worry.

So of course I signed it, knowing that this was all I was ever going to see as far as losing my house was concerned. Knowing full well that this $3,000.00 was going to cost me about $1,500.00 on my taxes the next year, which left me with $1,500.00 of hush money to spend as I saw fit. Because I have a bunch of kids and money is money, you know? I guess in the end it means that in exchange for losing my home, going bankrupt and having my credit ruined I got $1,500.00. Sounds like a heckuva deal to me!

I hated him at that moment. I hated the fact that he was holding this money over my head, like you hold a treat over a dog in order to get her to sit or roll over. I hated seeing his handwriting, hated seeing the "X" he drew, pointing out where I was supposed to sign.

Hated myself because at that moment, one of the seventy bajillion things I was thinking was, "I look so fat and ugly right now".

So I took that check and put it in the bank. I spent $250 of it on a Samsung Chromebook. Because my laptop was dying.  I hate spending money, have I ever mentioned that? It kills me to do it. The whole time the guy at Best Buy was ringing me up (isn't that a quaint term now, 'ringing me up'?) I kept thinking "Oooh jeeze I shouldn't spend this. I shouldn't spend this." Being broke does a number on your mind. Makes you kind of kooky as far as money is concerned.

Now I have the Chromebook, and while it's light-years better than my old dying Dell, it leaves a lot to be desired. But it's tiny and I can now sit in bed, watch Netflix and get all writery. To quote the kind old farmer in Babe:

That'll do, pig.  That'll do.

It will do for now.


(yes this is recycled material, I'm currently picking the bones of the blog and pulling out pieces here and there to clean up/tweak for the potential essay collection...whaddya think about this one? Yay or nay???)

7/16/18

Weight for it...



Oh you knew it was coming. Of course I'm going to write about Weight Watchers! But first, a disclaimer of sorts.

A couple of weeks ago I was scrolling through facebook and happened upon a discussion taking place on a friend's page. She made a comment regarding people who posted anything weight-related, basically saying they were immediately blocked or unfollowed. Several others posted similar sentiments, some insinuating that there are more important things going on in the world and nobody wants to hear about your exercise routine. One in particular has been stuck in my head, it went something like yeah I'm over here punching Nazis, nobody cares about your run Karen.

Fair enough.

I get it. I understand, way too well, that some things can be triggering. Or just plain annoying. I also know how uncomfortable it can get when people try to sell you the latest shake or patch, or how they can appear to be so very one-dimensional based on what they choose to share via social media.

The beauty of social media vs. actual face to face conversations is that we can roll our eyes, groan, flip them off and/or click unfollow, unfriend or if you're really not feeling it, BLOCK.

That's why I don't post a lot about the weight stuff on facebook or instagram or wherever. Because while I am fascinated by the changes happening to my body and frustrated by the challenges, I know the majority of my friends/followers aren't. I also don't want anyone to think that I'm making judgment calls about ANYBODY'S body or weight. Haven't we all seen those statements from people who have found their fitness groove- "I did it with three little kids, what's your excuse?" "gosh I can't find my excuse, maybe I ate it you smug shrew."

If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that I collect struggles like some people collect agates or fridge magnets. I have a lot of them and my weight is one that has been with me a looong time.

Key word here: MY.

My weight is my issue. I'm not sitting here in judgment of anyone else. I believe, very strongly, that what we do with our bodies is our business (in every way) and unless what we're doing with our bodies has a negative impact on other people we don't get to have a say in it. At all.

I read another article, about how we need to stop complimenting people on weight loss. This one had some fair points: you never know what's behind a noticeable change in a person's weight.

If someone's weight has noticeably changed, they may be going through something that isn't fun. They may be ill, they may be under a mountain of stress, they may not know what the hell is happening and are worried about it and hearing something about their change in appearance would only compound that worry.

But many people are intentionally changing their weight. They are totally on purpose exercising more and making different choices about what they're eating. And I cannot speak for all of us who are doing these things but as far as I'm concerned YESSSS please do say something! I am busting my formidable ass and there are days it feels like nothing is working and hearing even a simple "hey looking good, friend" can give me just enough of a nudge that I do go for a walk or I don't say eff it and eat a few handfuls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. 

So yeah, it's for sure advisable to keep your mouth shut if you don't know for a fact that the person is intentionally making changes to their body. But to suggest that we stop complimenting people? Phooey. No. Especially when we know the person is making a herculean effort to lose weight/bulk up/tone up. I tell people all the time "hey that color is so beautiful on you!" but it doesn't mean I think they look like shit in all the other colors they wear. And if you tell someone that they are looking good now it does not mean they looked like a dumpster fire before. It just means that this version of them is also lovely.

I've also discovered that you can hate Nazis and work on your health at the same time!! Yes it is entirely possible to do many things simultaneously. Some of us in the resistance need to take little breaks now and then. I myself enjoy watching tv (omg Handmaid's Tale, and now I'm finally watching The Sopranos and of course have developed an oddball and obviously forever unrequited crush on James Gandolfini 😭), going to movies (five dollar Tuesday nights, baby!) and yes, going for a nice run or walk or lifting a bunch of weights. Making fun of someone for posting about a run or a good workout or a relaxing yoga class, implying that typing out "I had a great run today" is akin to "I'm pretty much okay with the nightmare that is happening in our country" is super insulting and also laughable. Cripes.

Okay. Rant over...here's where I'm at with the Weight Watchers. Almost 50 lbs. down (46 and some change as I type this). It feels incredible. You know what else feels incredible? MUSCLES. I've always had a big ol' butt (ass for weeeeeeeks to quote Ice Cube) and I still do but now it's less fluffy feather pillow and more memory foam. If only it had something fun to remember, right? LOL.

I have before and during pics but I'm still scared to share them on a public platform. I will share that I've gone down about 3 or 4 sizes in everything. Yes, everything. Even my glasses are too big now. The past few weekends have been spent going through closets and drawers and so far I've donated about 10 garbage bags full of clothes.

If you ever see me even considering buying another poncho sweater, please lay a gentle but firm hand on my shoulder and whisper "Jenny, no."

But what I'm really geeked out about is my resting heart rate: you guys, it's now 49 bpm. I have a physical scheduled at the end of July and I cannot wait to see the results. Even at my biggest I had remarkably good numbers, they should be crazy good now.

Oh yeah and remember how I was convinced that I have a gluten allergy? I got stomach aches and really intense heartburn after eating it? Well. Apparently it wasn't a gluten sensitivity. It was the fact that my body was sensitive to a bunch of extra weight. I haven't had heartburn in so long I can't remember the last time I dug through my purse for a Tums.

I think I mentioned that two of my friends are doing this with me...I have to give them a huge shout out: Danielle and Joyce, you two are my rocks. They have the very dubious honor of listening to me cry about bad weigh ins, fielding texts about trying to not soil my pants while running on the track at the gym and counseling me when my Pirate's Booty consumption becomes problematic (which it always is, you guys. God help me I am powerless over the booty.)

Of course, I have been down this road before. The last time my weight changed so dramatically, I had just been dumped by my husband and was desperately doing the Pick Me dance. "Maybe if I lose weight, he'll come back" was playing on a loop in my grieving mind and we all know how that ended.

It ended with me gaining all of the weight back and gaining exactly zero husband back. One of those things wasn't good. 

Since the divorce and all of the fallout that followed it, I have lived in a nauseating state of limbo- waiting for the other shoe to drop, basically, despite the fact that about fifty or so other shoes have already fallen from the sky and bounced off my head. But when you live through something like a surprise breakup followed by what can only be described as financial abuse, you develop a very unpleasant habit of living in fear.

Maybe the fat I encased myself in was a barrier of sorts; put there as a buffer between me and everything bad and scary. The problem with that is, it was also a buffer between me and other things. Things like being strong(er), being able to run and move big heavy things, being able to wear pants with zippers and being able to make eye contact with that shy weirdo who lives in my bathroom mirror.

In summary: I'm not going to bore you with an overload of weight-related posts. But if I do slip up and mention it, please know that I'm also still actively working to make this world a better and kinder place.

And if you want to give me a compliment the next time we see each other, go for it.





















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