Natalie Novak is the pen name adopted by Kelly Topolinski, a Nashville area-based author, entrepreneur, momma, nana, and wife who loves family, adventure, the written word, and really good homemade cookies. What more must you know to know a person? Follow her on Twitter: @NatNovakWrites.
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I can’t remember what you look like. Yes, dear novel-in-progress, I’m talking about you.
I have a storyboard…. Somewhere. But this move and this massive shift in priorities have left my storyboard and – worse – my story, buried. It weighs on me in moments, and I’m scared that I have lost you. But that is a silly and unfounded fear. I know where the storyboard is, I can almost see it from here, in fact, and I know how the story goes. It isn’t lost, it’s just on pause as I reshuffle all of this wonder that is life.
I’m happy, if that counts for anything.
Actually, I think it counts for everything. I’m happy. I. Am. Happy. And that isn’t something I’ve always been able to say. At least not honestly.
So for now, I have to leave the storyboard buried and the words in my heart, but I know it is as it should be. I have to sort through a few things and get the train rolling before I can do this the right way.
And I’m learning what the right way is. I can now say with certainty that “the right way” isn’t what I thought it was. That was sure a dreamy vision, and one I fully intended to live out, but I learned last year that sometimes when you take a dream, especially one that you have made so perfectly golden and shiny in your mind, and you try to make it real….. well, it ain’t all that golden. Reality is complicated, and our brains make it even more so. At least mine does, anyway.
So right now, I’m super happy, but it’s a realistic happy. That means that sometimes I’m really quite tired. And sometimes I’m a cranky b-word, and later I feel terrible for that. And lots of times I’m confused about where to begin or what to do or how to accomplish the multitude of things that I am so eager to sink my teeth into. Happy is all of that; it is not simply golden and shiny all the time. Happy is waking up and feeling something and processing emotions and moving through the ups and downs and LIVING. Happy is living. My happy, anyway.
But I miss you, Baby Love. Let’s get together again soon, shall we?
I have another dissertation for you. It’s one that I need to get out of my brain so that I can move forward. This subject has been tugging at me for a few months, and because it won’t leave me alone, I know I need to write about it. Lucky you, you get to read it. Or click out of this post and not read it – the choice is yours. The choice is always, always yours. Right?
So here goes.
I spend a lot of time alone these days. I think that for many, this way of life would be a problem. I will say that I definitely do not enjoy being “cooped up” and away from the world, but I do enjoy solitude a great deal. I tend to protect that solitude, as well, meaning that I can be pretty selective about who I let into my space. For me, it’s important to be able to settle down and just be quiet for a little bit. These moments of solitude bring a sense of calmness and clarity, and I remember envying those who had these moments when I was so wrapped up in a go-go-go lifestyle. I was right to envy. This has been very good for me.
There is something else, though, and this is what I need to tell you. I realized something in these last six months that I’ve been out of the go-go-go: Alone does not necessarily mean lonely. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but it’s a very important realization for me.
Here’s where it gets super real (turn away, if you must).
So, as a regular reader or personal friend would know, I was married once before. The man that I am married to now is quite different from my first husband, and our relationship is of a completely different nature. It’s so dramatically different that I have sometimes wondered what, in heaven’s name, shifted so forcefully inside of me to allow such a relationship. I’ll tell you what shifted; it was my perception. It was the way that I looked at life, the way that I saw myself, and the way that I wanted the world to see me – and my marriage.
I lied a lot back then. I lied to myself, mainly, but I lied day after day to friends and family and strangers and the Internet, trying so desperately to convince myself and everyone else that every single thing was perfect. It wasn’t. The untruths weren’t the trivial white lies that most folks are good with, they were bigger than that – they were whole misrepresentations by way of skimming right over the terrible truths in order to only show the good and happy moments to the world.
I clung to the bright moments and brushed the bad ones under the rug as best I could, but eventually, that rug got awful lumpy. There came a point when I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, and that meant I had to tell everyone else the truth, too. I knew I hadn’t failed, but I truly felt like a fraud when it all came to light. After you’ve been telling yourself and the world that you have the perfect marriage for 18 years, what do you think the reaction will be when you let down the façade and say, “Just kidding”?
For much of the marriage, I was lonely. I was dreadfully lonely. There I was, surrounded by my little family, complete with two kids, dogs, a cute little house down the street from my parents, a rental property, a 401k, and a job I loved. We had dinner with my family every Sunday, we went out with friends, we took fun vacations. It was everything I thought you were supposed to have in order to be happy.
But I wasn’t. My then-husband and I fought a lot, and we fought fiercely. Our arguments were always about the same thing, and they always ended the same way. Even when we weren’t fighting over this one particular issue, it was always there between us, and it shaped our relationship very distinctly from the beginning.
I’m an optimistic gal. I see things in a way that most folks don’t. For many years, I forgave easily and tolerated irrational and seriously inappropriate behavior well – and not just from my then-husband. From everyone. I think that what I had done was build a wall around my heart, if you’ll allow me to be dramatic here in this space. Everyday, I was protecting myself, my heart, from harm. And that’s a damn lonely place to be.
After one particularly rough argument, I remember lying in bed and staring at the wall thinking one word over and over: Hopeless. I don’t even remember what that feels like now, to be honest. I haven’t felt hopeless or lonely since the day we separated, and I think that says a lot about what really makes us feel lonely in life.
First and foremost, I believe that we are responsible for our circumstances. If you’re unhappy, choose again. If something has brought you to your knees, stand up. When I hear folks say that they don’t “have a choice” in a matter, I find it so upsetting. Yes, you do have a choice – you just aren’t comfortable with what you believe a different decision may bring. Maybe you’re afraid. Heck, I sure was. Terrified, really.
Remember in the beginning up there when I said the choice is always, always yours? I believe that with all of my heart. I made the choice to stay in that relationship because I thought it was the right thing to do for several really big reasons, though time and time again I was shown otherwise. Because of my choice and the circumstances that came with it, I felt lonely and hopeless. Only when I let go and was willing to be alone did I see hope. Only when I embraced the truth did that heavy blanket of loneliness lift.
I really want to work on Baby Love right now, but I can’t seem to settle down. My mind is filled with these other little meanderings looking for a home. Are you home, dear blank page? Because these thoughts are seriously getting in the way of production. They’re clogging up the highway, so I really need to find them a permanent home. They’ve become so…. well…. loitery.
Author’s note: don’t use that word. I may have made it up.
This morning, my mind is filled with memories of almost four years in England. I struggle with the persistence of these memories, perhaps most of all. How can a place be missed even more than the human beings who inhabit it? I don’t know. I just don’t know. All I really do know is that when I close my eyes, I am so often there. The smell of damp air and trees and wet stone, and so many thousands of events imprinted upon any given space. The way the breeze was so cold coming off of the sea in November, or the rumble of fighter jets from the air base roaring overhead all day in the summer. I loved it there. I loved it there from the moment the door of the airplane opened and I first breathed Great Britain.
To be truthful, I wrote those first couple of paragraphs yesterday. Today I woke up with the word smitten on my mind, but that simple word brought me right back to England and that short period of my life where I felt at home. I was 100% smitten with England well before I was afforded the opportunity to live there thanks to the United States Air Force.
I was so genuinely happy there. I felt so at home, and I don’t understand why or how that is even possible. But the airplane door opened on December 7, 1998, and I saw that grey sky and that forest of tall, skinny, bare trees in the distant landscape surrounding RAF Mildenhall, and my heart was full. It was the strangest, strongest feeling.
They say that home is where your heart is, and I believe it. But why was this California girl’s heart in England? Okay, it might have been the mad crush I had on John Taylor (yes, of Duran Duran) when I was 13. But I don’t think so. I think there is something else, another reason that I haven’t yet discovered and may never know.
Tennessee reminds me of England. I have that same sense of home here, but I have begun to wonder if maybe that is because this is the first place that is ours. We haven’t made memories or plans or life here with anyone else; it’s just us. I’m so smitten with Nashville and all that it has to offer, but I’m more smitten with what we are together, no matter where we go. I’m beginning to think it isn’t Tennessee that feels like home. It’s him.
P.S. I’m also so so so smitten with Baby Love – and once this novel is complete, I hope you will be, too!
I entered a short-story contest not long ago, and it completely refueled my passion for writing. I loved it so much – the dedication to a specific story, developing characters and scenes. It was a game-changer for me. Everyone who writes should try this, even if short-stories aren’t your thing.
Truth-be-told, I exceeded the word count (by a bunch) and was supposed to have been disqualified. They weren’t even supposed to read the story at all, yet somehow, they did. And they don’t even know how cute I am, so how weird is that?!
Last week, I received an email from the judges with feedback. Feedback! They told me what they liked and didn’t like about the story, and I was OVER THE MOON. I felt validated and heard and, most of all, valued. They were just a handful of simple words, but they were said in truth and said by successful, published writers. I was reminded that I’m right where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing, and I’m fulfilling my purpose. Yeah, it sounds corny. But I believe it’s true.
I’ve written a lot in my life; I mean, I have a blue binder full of extremely crappy poetry from my teen years (don’t worry, I will never make you read it. So embarrassing, you guys). Farther back, now that I think about it, I wrote and illustrated a story in crayon on folded pages when I was in grade school. I remember drawing a puppy dog and big cartoonish trees on each of the pages, and how proud I was when my “book” was finished. Writing felt rewarding to me. It still does. Most days.
When I really think about it, I’ve been working on Baby Love – my treasure, my work in progress, my novel – for 15 years. It began as a short story for an English class in college, and then I shelved it for a long while. But something about the story haunted me; the way I wrote it didn’t feel very authentic. So years later, I retrieved the story and started writing it in full-length form. Baby Love deserves to be a book that stands alone.
A funny thing happened, though, that stopped me in my tracks very early in the process. I shared the pages of progress with a handful of trusted friends, and one friend – an aspiring writer – provided some rather harsh criticism. Okay, let me just admit right now: I’m tender. And I’m particularly tender when it comes to my writing.
So, of course, I didn’t write for months.
Admittedly, the criticism wasn’t really all that harsh. But I am filled with self-doubt sometimes, and I’m so terrified of failing at this one thing that matters to me more than all of the other things that I put my heart and soul in to, that I just couldn’t face the pages for a while. It’s so cliche. I’m afraid of failure. I could almost laugh, seeing those words on paper, because OH MY HEAVENS COME ON THIS IS RIDICULOUS.
My friendly critic pushed me down, completely by accident and 100% without malicious intent (I think?), but I stood back up. Eventually. The first thing I did when I found my legs was re-read Baby Love and try to see their point(s) without getting my feelings hurt. Okay, yes, there were flaws. I read it again. Then I read it once more, just for good measure.
And then I started over. I trashed the original pages (or, more truthfully, bound them together and put them in the back of my Baby Love folder), and I started over from scratch – but this time with intent. Before, I had just been typing out a series of events pertaining to a girl, but now I’m writing from within the story. I see the story, and I feel the story, and I am allowing the characters to show the story to the reader.
A big part of the fresh start was creating a storyboard and focusing strongly on character development. Making it real. These were changes that needed to happen, and as much as I hate to admit this, I benefitted from that constructive criticism. As of right now, 8:45 a.m. on Friday, March 25, 2016, it’s going really, really well. I’m happier about this very important part of my life than I have been in a really long time. Okay, probably ever.
Every day I open the document and see my characters and watch them grow, I am filled with confidence. I’m a proud momma! Right now, the stories within the story and the words that string them together are coming to me easily. I know this won’t always be the case, and that there will be peaks and valleys throughout this process. To be honest, I’m not sure how I will deal with those valleys.
But I will tell you that I made a decision when I restarted the process. The one person who needs to feel good about this book is me. If I don’t love it, then I certainly cannot expect anyone else to. My approval is what really and truly matters if this process and this book will have any meaning, and then I can ask for yours. With that thought in mind, Baby Love is all mine (and my future editor’s) until she’s ready to be shared. I’ll know she’s ready when I see the words “The End.”
I’ve really fallen out of love with one of the characters in the novel. I mean, I feel a little bad saying that. It’s so early in our relationship. Sadly, though, ’tis true. He’s a bit of a jerk. No, strike that, he is a LOT of a jerk.
This morning, as I was writing about Jim, I could see that he was becoming the vessel for an assortment of bad traits that I have noted in real-life folks I’ve crossed paths with in adulthood. Like every fictional character, Jim is a made-up guy. But, also like many characters, he is a little similar to a lot of people that I have actually known. For some reason, though, I am struggling to find something good about him. For me, this is strange. I tend to see the good in everyone (this sounds sweet and lovely, but trust me, it can be so very, very bad).
As I was finishing up writing hour today, I finally realized Jim’s strength and purpose. It felt like a therapy session, or a really good talk with a friend where you have a breakthrough and finally know why something has happened – and, most importantly, what you need to do next. I felt energized and motivated, and then I also realized that Jim was a character who had me “on pause,” so to speak. I know so much about all of the key players, but this guy – I just kept thinking to myself, why is he here, why do I need him to be here, why can’t I just leave him out?
Today I realized that Jim truly does have to be part of the story, because he is essential to the resolution. He was vital to the initial conflict, and now he will become part of the resolution that will bring the story to an appropriate close. Jim is necessary.
That is so stupidly symbolic that I’m almost embarrassed by it.
Moving on: Today I also renamed and rebranded another character. Damien Bell doesn’t occupy a central role, but he is important, just the same. He is influential, we shall say. Damien took over the role formerly occupied by Charles. Honestly, I just couldn’t get into the character with that name. It felt wrong, and I don’t know why. Damien suits this character so much better, and as soon as I made the change, I could really see who he is. I could hear his dialect in my mind and see how he dresses. I could see his family life and the reason why he is the way he is. Ah, the mind is a funny, complicated thing. A simple name-change is the equivalent of the wave of a magic wand. *Poof* ‘Charles the Vague Idea’ becomes ‘Damien the Person.’
Goodbye, Charles. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.
Jim, you can stay. Even if you are terribly terrible.
Something really interesting has happened as I work consistently on Baby Love. I’m struggling with the words to describe it, and oh wow, that just feels like a really big problem for a writer. Struggling with words! Gasp! But that is supposed to be your strength, she cries to herself. It’s true, though. I’m having trouble explaining what, precisely, is happening inside my heart and mind these days.
To be totally truthful, I’ve been aboard Ye Ol’ Struggle Bus as I’ve watched my friends and former co-workers engage once more in the lively world of racing. The season has fired up again, and so much is happening. We are approaching race two of 24 this weekend, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘they,’ ahem. There are so many things I would really enjoy being part of out there, but there is also so much that I am super grateful to have left behind.
I could harp on this forever. I probably will. You will tire of my lamentations, dear reader, of this I am certain. And so I will attempt to restrain myself from blah blah blahing you to tears with how much I miss that super-fast world and the thunderous excitement of drag racing.
I really do want to tell you about this interesting thing that has happened, so allow me to begin again.
Baby Love has meant something to me from the beginning, but it was always just this story that I wanted to tell. I felt compelled, I was driven toward expelling it from my mind and heart, and it was almost like it wasn’t something I could control. I had to write this story. No choice. It was going to come out of me at some point, like the alien that busts through that guy’s belly in that creepy 1979 movie. Hmmmm. That’s an analogy I really don’t feel very good about, now that it’s on paper. That movie gave me some serious nightmares as a kid, but hey, it’s a good visual, right?
Anyway. Baby Love was always just a story – until this week, when I somehow fell into it. I think I told you all before that the characters were beginning to feel real, which does sound a bit weird, except that I want them to be real for you. If I don’t believe them, why would the reader? The characters must be relatable and believable, and I feel as though through development I am achieving that, but I’m also seeing the story from the inside now. That’s a crazy feeling, but it’s crazy-good. It makes it so much fun, and I suspect I’m supposed to feel that in order for the book to be worthy of your time.
It’s like this: I have a very dear friend who is a writer but also works on racecars and has been a racecar driver, himself. He has been part of racing all of his life and is very well known in that world. This man is an incredible writer, but I am most fascinated by his presence on the starting line. I loved watching him watch the racecars, because he is so clearly in the run. He isn’t really observing the car power down the quarter-mile, he IS the car and the driver and the racetrack all at once. He lives the run as it happens, and you can see it by the way he moves with the car though his feet remain planted.
Lately, I have come to know what that feels like. As I have gotten to know the characters, I have actually felt sad about what I know is going to happen to some of them – but happy and excited, too, about the good things ahead. I can’t believe I’m the lucky fortuneteller who gets to lay it out for them. It’s a privilege to be here. I’m not a character, no, but I’m most certainly inside the book, feeling the feelings and caring about these people and their lives. I care about what happens at the finish line. I care about what happens after, and I can even see the next race now.
Before, the story was just an idea that I kept kind of trying to squint at and decipher. What was blurry and questionable is now very clear and defined, and I am grateful for this transition. I know it won’t always be this vivid, though. Writing is like that. Heck, life is like that. But right now I am very thankful to be in the story.
I’ve been waking up early every day this year to write. Okay, not every day. But a LOT of days, in my defense. Stop being so judgy. Sheesh.
Anyway, I’ve been waking up early to write, and I’ve been taking workshops and classes and reading my heart out because I am committed to Baby Love. I don’t want to write a mediocre novel; I want to write something worthy of print, you guys. I’m not trying to churn something out just so I can say to the world (and myself), “Look y’all! I wrote a BOOK!” Nope, nope, nope, I want to write something that people want to read, and then after they read it they think, Wow, let me see what else Natalie Novak has written that I can consume. Delicious! I’m on a mission.
God’s Honest Truth: I already wrote Baby Love. I wrote it in a creative writing class in college a whole bunch of years ago, but then it was just a paper for class – which I aced, by the way and of course. Now, Baby Love is a novel in the making, and I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about the way I told the story back then. There was some truth to it. There was a lot of truth to it, actually.
But now, as I am re-writing it in novel form, I have taken ginormous liberties, allowing the story to become a pure work of fiction. Very little truth is left on the page anymore, although as I am developing characters, I am finding that everyone I write about is somehow based on multiple people I already know. I recognize myself in some (a lot) of the characters, but I also recognize my sister, my high school best friend, my daughters, my ex-boyfriends. None of the characters in Baby Love, however, are based solely on any one person I know. There is a little bit of a whole bunch of folks all wrapped into every one. It is so strange to see it all coming together and to know that I’ve created these individuals who have such distinct identities. I feel attached to them, even though they aren’t living, breathing, flesh-and-blood people. I hope you do, too, when you read this book.
I’m not sure how to translate this post into something meaningful. I guess I just wanted to tell you.
I think a little part of me is afraid of what people will think (I’m so laughing at myself right now – “a little part of me is afraid.” Hello, understatement of the century). I’m finding that it takes a lot of courage to be a writer. I thought it would be so easy, doing what I love. But the truth is, writing feels far too close to a confession, or at the very least an indicator of the true depth of your creativity. Hey, we all want to be intelligent. Most folks think they’re pretty smart, wouldn’t you say? But believing that you also have enough creativity in your soul to be entertaining for more than 500 words is either really super brave or really ridiculously silly.
Oh, I love a good Monday. It’s a time to reset, to start again, to remember what you were going after and get back on the bus and return to the road. I’m a warrior, if you really want to know. A road warrior, even if I’m on an actual road a lot less now. My former career involved a lot of airplanes and rental cars and hotels, but this new path doesn’t take me far from home. Not physically, anyway, though mentally it is pretty darn demanding. It is, most certainly, a road. It’s not the major highway I was on before, though. It’s more like a backwoods dirt road that requires a slower, more methodical pace and careful navigation through thickets and swamps and weedy overgrowth.
Plus, I am finding it so very difficult to stay focused on the path before me when there are so many beautiful things I want to stop and appreciate.
When I was on that major highway all day every day, I forgot these things existed. Okay, I didn’t forget. But I put them on the backburner and said, one day I will think about these things. One day I will notice and appreciate them. Well, that time is now – but I am finding that there is not enough time in the day to do all that I want to do. I put off so much for so long. How will I ever see and do and love and be all that I am driven toward? It’s overwhelming. So overwhelming. I want too much.
Or do I?
I’m trying something new with this blog and website because, well, I need to take a fresh approach to this very important part of my career if I’m going to have any success. That’s why I left racing in the first place – to have success as an author. There are other things I’m doing as well, including launching and running a business encouraging others to focus on What Matters Most to them, and I’m doing that with JosephinesPlace.com. Check it out, if you have time. It means a lot to me, and I hope that as it grows, it will come to mean a lot to others as well.
What Matters Most to me includes making sure that I am living out what I believe God put me on this earth to do. I’m meant to write. And so I am writing. I have made a commitment to it in a way that I never have before, and because of that, I have seen progress in a way that I have never seen before. It’s true.
On July 24, 2004, I cut out my horoscope and taped it to a page in my planner because it struck such a chord deep within me.
Consistent effort toward a goal is more reliable than a whimsical wish.
I have done a lot of whimsical wishing in my life. Even after cutting out my horoscope that day, I continued to wish and dream and hope for many years. I still do it. Looking back now, however, I realize it is important to wish – but it is also important to turn that wish into a goal, if it’s something you really want. And then you must begin laying out a plan to make that wish a reality. Once the plan is in place, you have to start working the plan. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m making consistent effort toward the goal, and I’m trying hard not to become distracted by all the other pretty little wishes that keep populating any available space in my heart.
That’s tough, but I’m working on it. Daily message to self: Stay the course. Cut through the weeds and trudge through the swamps. Just keep going. Remember, you’re on the right path.
Seventh grade is just awkward. In my personal and professional opinion, in fact, that year of school simply should not exist. We should ignore it, like the 13th floor of a hotel. It can’t be completely removed from existence, but we could surely choose to look the other way and pretend it isn’t there. My apologies to all teachers of seventh grade, but I’m sure that even you can admit to the atrocity of this painful season of growth in which students are stuck between happy childhood and painful teenage-almost-grown-up land.
Adding insult to injury, I had really bad hair in seventh grade. Prior to that year, my hair had (almost) always been long, but for some insane reason, right before the first day of Jr. High, I determined that I wanted a chic*, short haircut like my mom. Or like Courtney Cox in Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video. Man, that chick** was so lucky! I wanted to be lucky. I wanted to dance with Bruce Springsteen in the dark on stage at a big concert, without a care in the world and particularly no concern for bad hair, an ill-fitting muscle shirt, and a hideously oversized watch.
So yeah, I cut my hair. The stylist made me look super cute that day, blowing out the short ‘do and then expertly crafting feathered curls with a hot iron. I was like, “I’m SO ready for seventh grade! Let’s do this!” And then I probably added, “Like, wow!” and “This is RAD!” It was the 80s, after all, and I was a Valley Girl. Kinda.
The first day of school was not great, and no day that followed during that year was great, either, except the last day of school when I found ink-penned graffiti in a shared classroom textbook that proclaimed, “[Natalie Novak] is a hottie.” That was a great day. But to that point? No. They all sucked.
In answer to your question: yes, I tore that glorious page of the textbook right out (what a vandal!) and still have it. Special moments, especially after a year of turmoil, must be treasured forever.
Bad hair was just part of what went wrong that year, but to elaborate: I had zero skills in the hair styling department, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not replicate the stylist’s adorably feathered coif.
Tears. SO MANY TEARS.
Soon into the school year, giving up all hope on cute feathered short hair, I began wearing a hot pink sunglasses headband. Every day.
Do you remember those headbands? They were streamlined sunglasses fit into a slender headband but without the combs on back to hold them in place. You could wear them as sleek, 1-inch wide sunglasses, or you could wear them as a normal headband. An awesome invention, to be sure, but perhaps it would have been less nerdy if I had this item in multiple colors or had also invested in some hair clips to mix things up a bit. The everyday wearing of this diverse, dweeby accouterment was fuel on the fire for Melanie.
I don’t know if everyone had a bully, but I sure did. She was super big – like the size of a full-grown woman who had religiously eaten her Wheaties from birth and was ready to go lift weights or arm wrestle at any given moment. I had Melanie in a couple of classes, but the problem class was P.E., where she took a shine to picking on me until I blushed reddish-purple and fought back tears. Oh, she was relentless, and her verbal attacks on my physical inabilities in sports and the K-Mart Special sneakers on my feet were accompanied by a towering physical presence that would close in with feigned intent as punctuation to her cutting words.
She was downright mean.
I tried talking to my parents about it, so of course they called a meeting with the principal, who called a meeting with Melanie and her parents, and there we all sat together in a small room promising to get along. I felt like a big whiny baby, and the whole situation changed nothing. Well, it did change one thing: I quit talking about it and instead started ditching school. I’ve always hated conflict, and what better way to avoid it than to simply not show up at all?
I would leave for school in the morning and then detour to the park, where I would hang out all day. A couple of times, I got my younger brother and sister involved in it. My sister and I were once questioned by a cop at the donut shop (odd that a police officer would be there [sarcasm], odder that we didn’t consider that possibility [truth]), We brilliantly came up with the tall tale that we were in the midst of moving and hadn’t yet started at the new school. What clever miniature criminals!
Of course, I eventually got caught. I got away with it for a long time, forging – *super cringe* – parental signatures on notes and handing them in at the office as my free pass to be a bad kid. You know how I got caught? I was overheard bragging to some kids about my delinquent behavior by a fellow student’s mother – who happened to be married to the vice principal. The jig was up, and it was up quick.
Several things happened in very quick succession. The most important of these was an immediate shift in my mental state. I couldn’t be a victim anymore. I relinquished that luxury by way of choosing to act in an irresponsible – and illegal – manner. Instead of having the sympathy of my parents, I had their wrath, and rightfully so. Here’s the BIG story, though. The good stuff: in the absence of feeling like a victim, I felt strong.
I wasn’t afraid to sleep in my own bed anymore. I quit crying. I didn’t feel scared when my parents left the house. I wasn’t terrified to go to school, and suddenly Melanie held no power over me. This all happened immediately. The circumstances didn’t change – but I did. Melanie was still Melanie (that bitch), but I was different. I realized that I was powerful in a way that I had never known before. I was in a fairly large amount of trouble for my terrible choices, yeah, but in the overall picture I was not defeated. I would happily accept my punishment.
Plus, detention looked good on my application for badass status – but that is totally another story.
Like I said, the entire school year stunk something fierce, but losing the victim label probably changed the course of my whole life.
One day shortly after I got busted as a truant, I was sitting against the building in the shade during P.E. free time. Melanie came over, bouncing a basketball a little too close to my feet while taunting me about my “ugly” hot pink sunglasses headband. I kept my head down and ignored her as she suggested that the thing probably had green mold on the inside that had grown because I wore it every day. Instead of tears bubbling up, I felt a surge of anger. I let her spit mean words at me as everyone in our class looked on, but the words didn’t hurt any more. It felt like they were bouncing off of me and dissipating. I could hear them, but I couldn’t feel them.
As she walked away, I stood and took off the hot pink 80’s dazzle – my accidental seventh-grade signature piece – and flung it with all my might on top of the roof. Everyone laughed, but this time they weren’t laughing at me – they were laughing with me. Some even looked a little impressed. I smiled and tugged my fingers through my short hair, which would eventually grow back into a long, even mane (because that’s what bad haircuts do, folks. They grow out and get better). That day, I silently shut the door on letting that particular bully ever get to me again.
There have been other Melanie Meanies in my life, because life isn’t perfect and not everyone is kind. But seventh grade taught me that I am strong and resilient. That icky year showed me that being a victim is a choice, and that peeling off that label will reveal a strength otherwise hidden. Zeroing in on how powerful you are as a human being can actually erase self-perceived weakness. It can change the course of your life.
It also taught me that I’m so much happier with longer, easy to maintain hair, and that hot pink is totally not my color.
I’m not really that into crying. It’s kind of a problem, really, and one that I should probably address at some point. But the whole act is just…. it’s just yucky, you guys. It makes me feel terrible on the inside, and it sure doesn’t do much for the exterior, either. The puffy eyes, streaky make-up, red and runny nose, these are all of the physical discomforts that come from what many call “a release.”
But for me, crying doesn’t solve anything, and it sure doesn’t make me feel better. What you see on the outside is pretty much how I feel on the inside when I succumb to a crying jag – MESSY. My heart hurts, my head aches, and I feel nauseous almost immediately. Crying is not good for me. I always regret it.
I’m not a normal girl. I know.
This has been a tough year. It was supposed to be the best year of my life – and in many ways it was – but my career had taken on a life of its own, and not one in which I felt comfortable or even welcome. I really came to understand that I needed to make a big change around mid-summer, when I couldn’t quit crying. At one point, I actually thought I had some terrible disease that required attention, so I went to the doctor.
Oh, be certain: I was afflicted. After a very long visit and many, many tests, my kind-hearted and appropriately thorough physician prescribed Xanax and a book about dealing with anxiety.
I refused a regular regime of Prozac. “No thank you!” I exclaimed indignantly. “You don’t know me at ALL,” I thought to myself. We settled on the as-needed Xanax and a regular discussion about “how I felt.”
He explained that because I had continuously run at such a high level of adrenaline for so many years (what’s a vacation?), I had exhausted my adrenal glands – and they were now completely out of whack. The sudden and extreme crying spells were actually anxiety attacks, and they were my confused and exhausted body’s way of begging me to listen, begging me to slow down.
I was embarrassed. For a while, I was in denial. I carried around the little pills but knew I would never need them. I read the prescribed book and laughed and laughed over how melodramatic people can be. And then I had a full-blown panic attack on Saturday morning at work, ahead of a day when I needed to have my head on straight.
I could feel it coming on, the same way it had so suddenly and inexplicably one day when I was simply cooking dinner in my own kitchen. My heart was racing, my head became very, very hot, and soon I knew that I would lose my breath and those terrible, uncontrollable sobs would follow. That had never happened to me in the workplace before, and it scared the shit out of me. “This cannot happen, this cannot happen, this cannot happen,” I started saying to myself. But it was happening. I rushed to the bathroom as quickly yet casually as I could, and I splashed cold water on my face. Tears were starting to flow, but not sobs, and so I felt maybe it was a little bit under control. I tried to breathe through it, taking deep breaths and focusing on a memory of my husband taking my face in his hands and telling me firmly, “You got this, baby. You got this.”
I composed myself enough to look the part and returned to my work station, where I took out one of those dreaded pills. It worked, but it pissed me off that it worked. I wanted to be in total control of my emotions; I didn’t want some little white pill to regulate them.
This was an important moment, though. It was suddenly 100% clear what could no longer be ignored or delayed: I needed to make a change. I knew what the change was, but it was a big, scary change.
As soon as I realized what I had to do and that it was, without a doubt, time, I began taking steps toward it. Guess what happened.
The anxiety faded, and then it went away. In its absence flowed ideas and plans that I transcribed relentlessly in my little blue-green notebook. And now I’m here, working the plan.
In a way, I think I was in battle with myself because I was afraid. The fear was centered around not wanting to disappoint anyone. However…….
Disappointment is inevitable. They say that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time, and so I assessed who I really wanted to be happy. Of course, I want to be happy. But the happiness of my husband is equally as important, if not more so (again, a blog for another day). The happiness of my children, the happiness of our ‘granbaby,’ the happiness of our home and lives together – these people and these things are what matters.
The happiness of paying clients is important to getting paid and keeping a shiny reputation and knowing that you are doing good work, but one thing I learned through this whole experience is that paying clients are paying clients. They are not, actually, your family. And sometimes, even if you are convinced otherwise for a moment, they aren’t even your friends. It isn’t personal. It’s business. But that isn’t the kind of business I want to be in.
So, I’m charting a new course. I’m writing a new chapter. I’m in control of my destiny. This is my game. This is my show. This is my life. This is my business.
I’m in the business of encouraging focus on what matters most.
I’m in the business of changing lives.
I’m in the business of inspiring.
I’m in the business of happiness.